U.S. legislators and farm groups push back against proposed ag budget

by Jay Sjerven
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Trump budget
Fiscal year 2018 budget for the USDA pegged at $137 billion.
 
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — U.S. President Donald J. Trump on May 23 proposed a fiscal year 2018 budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at $137 billion (budget authority), down $12 billion, or 8%, from an estimated $149 billion in F.Y. 2017, and outlined budget aims over the next 10 years that would sharply reduce expenditures and even eliminate a number of long-standing programs.

Leaders of the congressional agriculture committees pushed back against several of the more draconian proposals, which were roundly panned by farm and nutrition organizations.

The president’s FY 2018 USDA budget called for funding mandatory programs, those required by laws other than annual appropriations acts, such as the farm bill, at $116 billion, down 6% from $123 billion in FY 2017. The USDA requested $73.6 billion for SNAP for FY 2018, down $4.9 billion, or 6%, from $78.5 billion in FY 2017.

food security
A scaled back international food assistance funding request was transferred to the International Disaster Account.
 
The budget would reduce spending on discretionary programs to $21 billion in FY 2018, down about $4.8 billion, or 19%, from the current year. A large share in the decrease in requested funding for discretionary programs in FY 2018 was tied to eliminating funding for the P.L. 480 Title II, Food for Peace, which is the principal vehicle through which the United States provides emergency and developmental food assistance to developing nations. Congress appropriated $1.713 billion for P.L. 480 Title II operations in FY 2017. A scaled back international food assistance funding request was transferred to the International Disaster Account, which is managed by the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development.

Additionally, the president’s budget would eliminate the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program, a school feeding program authorized under the 2002 farm bill for which Congress provided $201 million in funding in FY 2017.

Of particular concern for legislators, farm organizations and nutrition assistance program advocates were the administration’s proposals for legislation that will dramatically affect federal spending over the next 10 years.

It was estimated the president’s budget would cut $231 billion in mandatory farm bill spending over 10 years, including a $193 billion cut in funding for SNAP.

Sonny Perdue
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture George E. (Sonny) Perdue.

In introducing the USDA’s budget request, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture George E. (Sonny) Perdue, said, “President Trump promised he would realign government spending, attempt to eliminate duplication or redundancy, and see that all government agencies are efficiently delivering services to the taxpayers of America.  And that’s exactly what we are going to do at the USDA.

“Having been the governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2011 — not during the best economic times — we did what it took to get the job done, just like the people involved in every aspect of American agriculture do every single day. While the president’s budget fully funds nutrition programs, wildland fire suppression and food safety, and includes several new initiatives and increases for rural development, whatever form the final budget takes, it is my job as secretary of agriculture to manage and implement that plan, while still fulfilling the core mission of the USDA.”

K Michael Conaway
Representative K. Michael Conaway of Texas.

In a joint statement, Representative K. Michael Conaway of Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, and Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said, “We support the Trump administration’s goal of achieving 3% economic growth for our nation. The USDA’s latest estimates find agriculture, food, and related industries contribute $992 billion to our economy. As we debate the budget and the next farm bill, we will fight to ensure farmers have a strong safety net so this key segment of our economy can weather current hard times and continue to provide all Americans with safe, affordable food. Also, as a part of farm bill discussions, we need to take a look at our nutrition assistance programs to ensure that they are helping the most vulnerable in our society.”

Collin Peterson
Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, ranking member on the House agriculture committee, said, “This budget should be a warning to people in rural America. For years, groups like the Freedom Caucus, Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth have been advocating for these exact policies as part of their goal to completely do away with farm programs. They are now closer to making this a reality than ever before.

“By all accounts this budget is going nowhere on Capitol Hill, but it is still a statement of priorities and should be of concern to all rural Americans. Going down this path all but guarantees there will be no new farm bill.”

Debbi Stabenow
Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, ranking member on the Senate agriculture committee, said, “President Trump’s budget proposal would leave our farmers, families, and rural communities vulnerable in tough times. The proposed cuts to important farm and family safety net programs, including crop insurance and SNAP, are harsh and short sighted. By zeroing out critical funding for rural infrastructure and job-creating programs, the budget proposal neglects the needs of every small town in rural America.

“In the last farm bill, we passed bipartisan reforms that saved taxpayers billions more than expected. If enacted, this proposal would make it nearly impossible for Congress to pass a new farm bill and provide farmers, families, and rural communities with the certainty and support they need. I am also concerned this budget request does not come close to meeting the needs of our financial regulators, like the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. If we are serious about having financial markets that work for our nation's farmers, manufacturers, and consumers, we need a strong, effective cop on the beat.”

Zippy Duvall
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the administration’s 2018 spending blueprint fails to recognize agriculture’s current financial challenges or its historical contribution to deficit reduction.

“The AFBF and its members are concerned about the federal budget deficit,” Duvall said. “However, we also know that agriculture has done its fair share to help reduce the deficit. Going back to the early 1980s, agriculture often has been targeted to generate budget savings, from the reconciliation bills in the late 1980s and 1990s to farm bill reforms as recently as 2014.”

Duvall pointed out that when it was passed, the 2014 farm bill was estimated to contribute $23 billion to deficit reduction over 10 years.

The proposed budget “would gut federal crop insurance, one of the nation’s most important farm safety-net programs. It would drastically reshape important voluntary conservation programs and negatively impact consumer confidence in critical meat and poultry inspection,” Duvall warned.

He added the proposal would also threaten the viability of plant and animal security programs at the nation’s borders, undermine grain quality and market information systems, and stunt rural America’s economic growth by eliminating important utility programs and other rural development programs.

Duvall noted that these cuts are even more worrisome when considered in light of the current farm economy.

“Farm income is down substantially since Congress passed the last farm bill,” Duvall explained. “USDA cuts of this magnitude in the current economic cycle would be unwarranted and unwise. The AFBF will work with the House and Senate agriculture, appropriations and budget committees to protect programs that are critical in managing risks inherent to production agriculture, and maintain programs that are vital to rural communities.”

ASA president Ron Moore
Ron Moore, president of the ASA.

The American Soybean Association voiced its strong opposition to the proposed cuts.

“By shredding our farm safety net, slashing critical agricultural research and conservation initiatives, and hobbling our access to foreign markets, this budget is a blueprint for how to make already difficult times in rural America even worse,” said Ron Moore, president of the ASA and a soybean farmer from Roseville, Illinois, U.S.

Moore pointed out the budget would cut the federal crop insurance program by $28.5 billion — or roughly 36% — by capping the premium subsidy and eliminating the harvest price option. The White House’s proposed budget also would cut nearly $9 billion from Title I commodity supports, including the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, by reducing the adjusted gross income eligibility cap from $900,000 to $500,000, Moore explained.

“Thirty six percent is the most extreme proposed cut to crop insurance I’ve seen in my 40 years on the farm,” Moore said. “This is a program that exists to sustain farmers who suffer catastrophic losses. Coupled with the arbitrary caps the budget would impose on premium subsidies, it’s clear that this budget was written without input from farmers who would be severely affected.”

The budget also threatens export promotion and foreign food assistance programs, Moore said. It would eliminate funding for USDA programs that help expand foreign markets: the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development program (FMD). MAP and FMD leverage matching funds from industry to establish and expand markets for U.S. agricultural products abroad.

The budget would cut nearly $6 billion from conservation programs, including the elimination of the Conservation Stewardship Program, which is the USDA’s largest conservation program with more than 70 million acres enrolled, and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Moore said.

Alan Tracy, president of USW.

U.S. Wheat Associates also voiced disappointment that the administration’s proposed budget eliminates funding for the MAP and FMD program and severely cuts funding for food aid programs.

“These are the wrong proposals at the wrong time for the wheat farmers we represent,” said Alan Tracy, president of USW. “Agriculture is truly a global industry, and export demand determines the prices U.S. wheat farmers receive. Without funding from MAP and FMD, we would not be able to continue the training, technical assistance and service that is needed to promote this incredibly complex food crop. Our competitors would swoop in to take those markets and the potential effect on wheat prices is obvious.” 

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