Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will have less money to work with in the year ahead than his predecessor and is facing a future of further budget cuts as part of President Trump’s 10-year plan to eliminate the federal deficit.
The agency’s proposed budget for FY 2018 is $137 billion, compared with $149 billion in FY 2017. It includes $116 billion for mandatory programs, down $7 billion from last year, and $21 billion for discretionary programs — down $4.8 billion and 21 percent from last year.
The budget has some positive points and some downturns and still has to be determined by Congress, Perdue said during a conference call with the press on Tuesday.
But however it turns out, “it’s my job to manage and implement the plan,” he said.
Trump’s focus is to reduce the deficit and, despite cuts, Perdue said he’s convinced USDA can continue to serve American agriculture and help rural America prosper.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to sugar coat this … (but) when times get tough, we dig down and do more,” he said.
If approved by Congress, Perdue intends to implement the budget plan for the best possible outcome for production agriculture and consumers, he said.
“I see it as an opportunity to demonstrate to the American people we can do more with less, and we will do more with less” he said.
Not everyone sees it that way, especially considering that Trump’s long-term proposal is to cut $230 billion in farm bill funding over the next 10 years.
That includes slashing $29 billion from crop insurance, $191 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), $6 billion from conservation programs and $3 billion from other farm programs.
“Such cuts would leave farmers without a safety net and would make passing a new farm bill almost certainly impossible,” said Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union.
In addition, the huge cut to discretionary spending in the FY2018 budget would put rural development, conservation and research programs on the chopping block, he said.
USDA Deputy Secretary Michael Young said some of the reduction, such as changes to crop programs and SNAP, are based on legislative proposals that would save $240 billion over 10 years.
The reductions in crop insurance would come from limiting the insurance premium subsidy to $40,000 for any single entity, targeting crop insurance to producers that have an adjusted gross income of $500,000 or less and eliminating harvest price revenue coverage. And despite the reductions to SNAP, the program would be fully funded based on estimated participation, he said.
The administration’s 2018 funding blueprint fails to recognize agriculture’s current financial challenges or its historical contribution to deficit reduction, said Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president.
“USDA cuts of this magnitude in the current economic cycle would be unwarranted and unwise,” he said.
Among other things, the proposed budget would gut federal crop insurance — one of the nation’s most important safety nets — and would drastically reshape important voluntary conservation programs, he said.
National Corn Growers Association said in a statement the administration’s budget cuts would hurt farmers’ ability to manage risk, grow their revenues and farm more sustainably.
“The time to debate farm bill programs is during the farm bill reauthorization, not the annual budget process,” NCGA stated.
Targeting the federal crop insurance program is extremely shortsighted and especially harmful during an extended period of low commodity prices. The public-private partnership helps farmers manage their risk and saves taxpayers money in the long run by reducing reliance on ad hoc disaster assistance, NCGA stated.
The organization also noted the budget also eliminates $235 million in annual funding for foreign marketing programs, which return $28 on every $1 spent, making them a solid investment.
“At a time when the farm economy is struggling, we should be investing more in these programs, not less,” NCGA stated.