MOULTRIE — Members of the agriculture community in Southwest Georgia have questioned a proposal from President Barack Obama to limit direct payments to farmers.

Obama made the pitch in a recent speech, and the gist of the proposal is cutting the direct payments to farmers who have more than $500,000 in sales.

The $500,000 figure seems arbitrary and would punish successful operations, Georgia Extension Service cotton economist Don Shirley said.

A farmer in this part of the state could meet half the threshold with less than 600 acres of cotton and the other $250,000 with less than 450 acres of peanuts, Shirley said.

“That $500,000 would be exceeded on a farm of 1,000 acres or more,” he said. “For a full-size farming operation in South Georgia, that’s not a large farm by any stretch of the imagination. That’s probably average size.”

An operation that also grows vegetables could hit the limit even faster, Shirley said.

Large farming operations also realize economies of scale by purchasing fertilizer and other chemicals and equipment in bulk, Shirley said.

The proposal to phase out the direct payments would have an estimated savings of nearly $10 billion over 10 years.

“The other thing that is troublesome with this is farms have gotten bigger for a reason,” Shirley said. “That’s because it has gotten necessary to do so to produce a profit and remain in business. When you put a cap in there it’s like you’re punishing people for being successful.”

The one-size-fits-all concept is not very realistic, Shirley said.

“Proposals like this don’t take into account the various types of farms around the country,” he said. “It doesn’t take into account the value of different crops. That’s the problem with something arbitrary ... You’re not addressing the problem you’re trying to address.”

Colquitt County farmer Mark Mobley said that the president’s proposal would be a reversal of the farm bill approved by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

“Personally I don’t know if I want to just eliminate something that was crafted by the past Congress,” he said. “What we have now seems to be working fine. It was a good farm bill. I can’t understand why he wants to pick on farmers.”

Mobley said he has had several calls from farmers for whom Mobley Gin Company gins cotton. Farmers in this part of the state already have concerns over the decline in peanut acreage they envision due to sufficient stockpiles of peanuts and the tainted peanut butter that has frightened consumers.

“In this part of the state right now we don’t know what’s going to happen with peanuts,” Mobley said

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss said in an e-mail statement that the budget proposals cutting farm payments could increase uncertainty for farmers.

“Our focus should be on offering producers the certainty they expect and work with the agriculture community at the appropriate time to make any changes in the current farm safety net,” the statement said. “I believe it is unwise to completely alter the makeup of this farm safety net before we have the opportunity to assess the effects of the reforms included in the 2008 farm bill.”

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