“It’s no secret that we have a $1.6 trillion debt in this country. I don’t think anyone believes that is sustainable. So, there will be a lot of pressure on the new Congress, no matter who is in power, to reduce the deficit and control spending. We don’t know how that will impact the farm bill’s available resources let alone how those will be allocated between each title.

“I will say that, from our standpoint, we’ll be quick to point out that the cost of the farm portion of the farm bill versus the nutrition portion is down substantially from historical levels. The early farm bills I worked on, help for farmers – no matter what they were growing – accounted for a substantial percentage of the farm bill. Now, it’s a very, very small percentage. The cost of the farm programs has come down and most of (the savings) have been consumed by the nutrition titles.

“So, we’ll point that out so that, when Congress does deal with the deficit, they give some (weight) to the fact that the farm program portion has already taken huge reductions in spending. That’s kind of unprecedented in the federal budget because most everyone has seen substantial increases (in spending), which is why we have the current deficit.”

Speaking of the deficit, President Obama has told the USDA to increase ag exports. Do y’all have a position on the opening of trade with Cuba and the trade deals pending with Columbia, South Korea and Panama? I know those deals were a topic of conversation when you were at the USDA.

“They were, indeed. When I was at USDA, I led a delegation to Columbia after the signing of the U.S./Columbia free trade agreement.

“Exports are an important part of what co-ops are up to and important to the farmer-owners we represent. Whether it’s cotton, almonds or wheat, exports account for a substantial percentage of what we’re already selling.

“And our membership does take note that there will be a big population boom on the planet, most not in the United States. So, the future growth potential for American agriculture and co-ops will be overseas.

“We’d like to see an easing of trade restrictions with Cuba. There’s an opportunity there to increase sales of commodities, particularly rice. There’s a great competitive advantage for the United States to ship products to Cuba and we’ve been unable to do that…

“With regard to the individual free trade agreements, our membership generally favors (them). We wish we could have a multilateral round of successful trade negotiations. There, all the world players would be required to trade under the same set of rules.

“We favor, first and foremost, trade agreements that everyone participates in. Having said that, we’re aware that the Doha Round is stuck in the mud.

“I think in the cases of Panama and Columbia, we’ve acknowledged as an organization that those (deals) represent only upside potential in terms of exports. Any easing of restrictions on their imports into the United States has already been implemented. By passing those agreements you’re only providing the same benefits to our growers that their growers already have.”