President Donald Trump’s preliminary “skinny budget” would slim down resources to farmers, ranchers and rural America, further cutting USDA’s already trimmed-down budget.
Trump’s FY2018 proposal would cut discretionary funding to USDA by 21 percent, a decrease of $4.7 billion to $17.9 billion.
The current USDA budget includes $25 billion in discretionary spending for such programs as the special nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children called WIC, Rural Development, food safety, the U.S. Forest Service, research and conservation activities.
That’s on top of $130 billion in congressionally mandated spending for a current overall budget of $155 billion. Of that total, 71 percent goes to WIC and SNAP food stamps for 44.5 million Americans, 16 percent goes to farm and commodity programs, 7 percent goes to conservation and forestry and 6 percent goes to rural development, research, food safety, marketing and regulatory functions and management.
In a climate of serious economic challenges in farm country, it’s not the time to cut programs and services that have already been on the chopping block the past few years, said R.J. Karney, American Farm Bureau Federation director of congressional relations.
The significant cut in USDA’s budget demonstrates the importance of having the secretary of agriculture at the table to champion the needs of farmers and ranchers. That didn’t happen, as Trump’s nominee for that position, Sonny Purdue, has been sidelined by delays in the confirmation process, he said.
“Not having the secretary of ag at the table to help the budget process was made clear by the negative impact to the (USDA’s) budget,” he said.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said in a statement the proposed cuts and message they send to rural America are “deeply disappointing.”
Family farmers and ranchers are enduring the worst farm economy in well over a decade and an inadequate safety net already hamstrung by $23 billion in budget cuts, he said.
“The last thing our members need right now is more cuts to agencies and programs that provide incredibly important work, especially in the middle of the current farm crisis,” he said.
All the details have not yet been released, but funding cuts would target USDA’s statistical capabilities within the National Agricultural Statistics Service and Economic Research Service and USDA Service Center Agencies — Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources and Conservation Service and Rural Development. It would also eliminate the Waste and Wastewater loan and grant program.
NASS provides roughly 400 reports annually on 120 crops and 45 livestock products, with estimates on acreage, yield and production. That information is critical to farmers and ranchers in decision-making, Karney said.
ERS provides economic analysis on food, agriculture, natural resources and economic development in rural America, which farmers, ranchers and government officials rely on to guide policy and farming businesses, he said.
Other ag organizations are concerned with funding cuts aimed at conservation and rural development.
The National Association of Conservation Districts said without USDA’s conservation programs, farmers, ranchers and rural communities won’t have the resources or assistance they need to keep soils healthy, water clean and wildlife abundant.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said Trump’s budget request misses the mark when it comes to the needs of rural America – gutting USDA’s ability to invest in rural development, targeting rural water and wastewater management programs and moving to privatize conservation planning.
The National Young Farmers Coalition said the budget proposal dramatically underestimates the economic urgency facing rural America – recruiting a new generation of farmers to take over for America’s aging farming population by making rural life a less-viable option.
“Looking to the future, the thing to keep in mind is that Congress writes the budget, not the president,” AFBF’s Karney said.
House Ag Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said Congress needs to be extremely careful not to exacerbate the current struggles farmers and ranchers are facing. He pointed out that the latest estimates show the 2014 Farm Bill has saved more that $100 billion, saying “agriculture has done more than its fair share.”