Could farming face the sickle? The president’s deficit commission has proposed cutting a quarter of annual subsidies. And while the farm lobby has fended off previous slashes, John Boehner, the incoming House speaker, voted against the last agricultural bill. Buzzed-about broadsides like the film Food, Inc. are helping tilt the political calculus, too, as lawmakers begin the slog toward a new “ag” bill by 2012.
So farmers are hoping to cultivate a new crop: public support. The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, a lobby for more than 20 smaller groups, aims to spend as much as $25 million for an ad blitz in 2011, while two other groups are helping farmers hone their messages through War Room–style boot camps. Perhaps the savviest move comes from the Iowa Farm Bureau, where communications personnel recently became the largest part of the staff. Last month the bureau proposed canceling “direct payments”—subsidies doled out even when profits are high—and channeling the money to more palatable programs, like crop insurance. Financially, the aid amount wouldn’t necessarily change. Optically, however, it could make all the difference.