By Jessica Domel
The White House’s fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint has many in the farm and ranch community concerned. The proposal includes a 21 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) discretionary spending.
“They’re talking about cutting the statistical capabilities of USDA,” Regan Beck, director of Government Affairs at Texas Farm Bureau (TFB), said. “That is a big concern because farmers and ranchers depend on that information to make decisions about planting, marketing and risk management.”
Without USDA’s statistics, farmers would essentially be “flying blind.”
“There’s tremendous risk in farming and ranching,” Beck said. “This is one of the tools to help understand that risk and that’s being taken away from them.”
If realized, that would also decrease funding for water programs and staffing at local Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices.
“The Farm Service Agency offices deliver the farm bill programs. If you do cut those positions, then it’s going to be hard to continue providing the services, and farm bill programs to farmers and ranchers,” Beck said.
The proposed budget allocates $17.9 billion in discretionary spending. That’s a decrease of $4.7 billion.
“On the USDA budget, 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,” Congressman Mike Conaway, House Agriculture Committee chair, said. “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 be there to help our farmers and ranchers. The work they do is critical. A well fed world is a safer world.”
Conaway said the proposal covers appropriations spending and mainly provides top line numbers. A comprehensive budget is due later this spring.
He said it’s important to note the Agriculture Committees put together a farm bill in 2014 that saved more than $100 billion. That’s four times the savings the committees 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,” Conaway said.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said she strongly opposes the proposed budget and the cuts that are critical to farmers, ranchers and families.
“In the last farm bill, we passed responsible bipartisan reforms that saved taxpayers billions more than expected. This budget proposal puts farmers and families in small towns and rural communities at risk. It’s deeply troubling that the Trump administration targets the Department of Agriculture for cuts averaging 21 percent—the third largest cut to any federal agency,” Stabenow said.
Stabenow said the proposal undermines job creation by eliminating access to credit for small businesses. She said it also completely ends rural water infrastructure programs that could leave some small towns without clean drinking water or safe sewer systems.
“The Trump administration neglects to clarify all of the areas that will be cut. This puts a target on hundreds of critical USDA programs and services that rely on annually appropriated funds, and could lead to cuts as high as 33 percent to agriculture research and extension, conservation planning, wildfire prevention and efforts to fight avian influenza and other threats to our food system,” Stabenow said. “As we move forward on the budget process, I will oppose these cuts and, instead, continue to work in a bipartisan way to strengthen support for agriculture and our rural communities.”
International food aid programs and food safety programs would also be affected, according to The Hill.
According to CNBC, the Trump administration said the proposed budget cuts to FSA centers will streamline procedures and “reflect reduced rural development workload and encourage private sector conservation planning.”
Mandatory spending, which includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was not covered in the proposal.