Both the chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee expressed concern over President Trump’s proposal to cut $4.7 billion out of the USDA budget during a time of extreme hardship for America’s farmers.
"I am concerned that the cuts, while relatively small in the context of the total federal budget, could hamper some vital work of the Department,” says Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas. “I think it is very important to remember that net farm income is down 50 percent from where it stood just four years ago. America's farmers and ranchers are struggling, and we need to be extremely careful not to exacerbate these conditions. In fact, we need to do all we can to help our farmers and ranchers. The work they do is critical. A well fed world is a safer world.”
Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, says President Trump’s proposed budget would create hardships for America’s farm communities and indicates a “general lack of understanding of what really takes place in rural America.”
He says Trump’s proposal will cut USDA’s budget by 21 percent, stripping $4.7 billion out of a budget that represents a small sliver of the total U.S. budget, and one that has withstood deep cuts in recent farm legislation.
Peterson says Trump’s proposal “demonstrates a lack of understanding of farm programs and their impact on rural America.”
Conaway says the Ag Committee will weigh in further as they begin crafting a new farm bill.
AG COMMITTEE WILL WEIGH IN
"I think it is also important to point out that the Agriculture Committees put together a farm bill in 2014 that saved more than $100 billion, according to latest estimates. That's more than four times the savings we had pledged. Agriculture has done more than its fair share. As we in Congress get ready to write the budget, we will certainly pay close attention to the President's recommendations, many of which I suspect will be incorporated into the budget. But, we will also have ideas on what the budget should look like and our priorities will also be taken into account. The bottom line is this is the start of a longer, larger process. It is a proposal, not THE budget."
Peterson takes issue with Trump’s claim that some of the targeted programs are redundant. “Cuts to the water and wastewater loan grant program are wrongly portrayed as duplicative when they are the only ways for small rural communities to update their water systems.”
He adds that cuts to county Farm Service Agency Centers are ill advised. “County offices are already understaffed and further cuts would mean private organizations would be tasked with helping farmers navigate farm programs.
“The good news is this budget will be ignored, as it should be. I urge the Administration to spend more time in rural America to gain an understanding of how things work and I hope that once an Agriculture Secretary is in place that he will be able to explain the value of these programs and services.”
HITS TO CONSERVATION PROGRAMS
Conservation organizations find little to like in Trump’s budget.
"The President's first budget request misses the mark entirely when it comes to the needs of rural America," says Greg Fogel, policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Fogel says the budget will harm the people who were instrumental in electing Trump—“America's farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. By zeroing out funding for Rural Business Development programs, this budget guts USDA's ability to invest in rural enterprise development. These programs have a proven track record of success – both in terms of business survivability rates and job creation.”
He objects to Trump’s claim that these programs are “underperforming.” That charge, Fogel says, “reflects a lack of understanding of their function and impact. Moreover, it is extremely shortsighted to target rural water and wastewater management programs, which aim to address one of rural America's biggest infrastructure problems. We are also very concerned with what seems to be a proposal to privatize conservation planning.”
He also recommends that Congress kill the budget. “We expect such a proposal to be dead on arrival in Congress, where members of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees have a deep understanding of how conservation planning works. This budget request is, of course, only the first step in the FY 2018 budget and appropriations process. As additional details become available, NSAC will work with Congress and our 118 members nationwide to ensure that America's farmers, ranchers, and rural communities are not hung out to dry."
CRUCIAL PROGRAMS AT RISK
Brent Van Dyke, president of The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), expressed extreme disappointment in the proposed 21 percent cut to the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). He adds that many of USDA's voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs are crucial to promoting responsible use of natural resources.
"Without USDA conservation programs, America’s farmers, ranchers, and communities won't have the resources or assistance they need to keep our soils healthy, our water clean, and our wildlife abundant,” Van Dyke says. “We look forward to the president releasing a more thorough budget in the coming weeks and will continue to work with Congress to ensure strong funding."
NACD also takes issue with Trump’s call for “reducing staffing in USDA’s Service Center Agencies." The association says those cuts would prevent thousands of rural communities across America from accessing services like conservation planning assistance.
"If enacted, the President’s budget would be devastating to farmers, ranchers, and rural communities across America,” NACD CEO Jeremy Peters says. “At a time when private capital in the farm economy is scarce, landowners need even greater access to conservation planning assistance."
In addition to proposed cuts to USDA, Trump proposes a 31 percent reduction in the Environmental Protection Agency budget, with estimates suggesting eliminating as many as 50 programs and 3,200 jobs.
The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) voices concern that the Trump budget will be hard on rural America. President David Schemm, a wheat grower from Sharon Springs, Kansas, says the proposal does not include cuts to crop insurance or Title I farm programs but that deep cuts in discretionary funds will be harmful.
“We are very concerned about the impact that the deep discretionary cuts, particularly at USDA, will have on wheat farmers across the country,” said Schemm. “Many of the proposals in the budget blueprint would have an outsized impact on rural America, particularly cuts to agricultural research and to USDA county offices. Given the rough economic conditions and perpetual low prices, now is not the time to make such drastic cuts.”
NAWG concerns include: the impact on wheat research, the functionality of farm programs resulting from cuts to NASS and USDA county offices, rural infrastructure programs and anti-hunger programs like the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program.
Schemm commented on cuts to EPA, insisting that EPA regulations should be “reined in,” but that funding should be adequate to allow for timely work on registration review of crop protection tools and evaluation of new products.
“As the budget process gets underway, we will work with the House and Senate to ensure a common-sense approach to their proposals for FY18 Budget and Appropriations,” Schemm says. “We will also work with the Trump Administration regarding support for important farm safety net programs to ensure they are not subject to mandatory spending cuts or limitations as additional budget details are released this spring.”
He also notes the savings from the Agriculture Act of 2014. “Let’s also remember the $23 billion in deficit reduction over 10 years that was generated by the 2014 farm bill. USDA programs generated budget savings and continue to do so, as shown by the recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate that the 2014 farm bill actually reduced spending by $100 billion over 10 years.”