Agriculture has often been asked to do more with less. And although new Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said he’s up to the challenge to be a wise steward of whatever money Congress appropriates to the agency, many are hoping the agriculture committees aren’t asked to offer agriculture as the sacrificial budget lamb.
The latest Trump budget proposal slashes crop insurance by $29 billion, conservation programs by $6 billion, and SNAP by $191 billion, in addition to $3 billion in cuts to other farm programs.
It should be noted that Perdue had no say in the budgetary framework but rather the documents came out of the Office of Management and Budget and its new budget-hawk director Mick Mulvaney. The Heritage Foundation – which has attempted to thwart past farm bill passages – also had a marked influence in the proposal which circulated passed failed ideas.
"In the last Farm Bill, we passed bipartisan reforms that saved taxpayers billions more than expected,” stated Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
The 2014 Farm Bill shaved agricultural spending by $23 billion at the time of passage. It is now slated to save taxpayers more than $100 billion, “which is incredible given what our producers are facing with depressed prices, weak exports, and the predatory trade practices of some foreign countries,” shared Tamara Hinton in the latest edition of Farm Policy Facts released following the budget. Most of those savings come from fewer people using food stamps, not for less money spent on Title 1 programs (those are actually more.)
Hinton pointed out that the farm safety net makes up only a quarter of 1% of all federal spending. “Put another way, based on 2017 spending levels, if we eliminated the entire farm safety net, it would take us 1,700 years to pay off the federal debt. That's assuming that we have the fiscal discipline to address the real drivers of the debt and eliminate annual deficits.”
Need more food for thought? Consider that the United States spends 38 times more on interest payments on the federal debt than on the entire farm safety net, and 66 times more than on federal crop insurance.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said, “Farmers, ranchers, and rural families understand fiscal responsibility. But, now is not the time for additional cuts. We need to review what is working and what is not working. What is needed is certainty, bold thinking, and new ideas that address today’s challenges and these tough times in the agricultural economy.”
He said it’s essential to ensure that producers have risk management tools at their disposal, “Let me emphasize that crop insurance is the most valuable tool in the risk management toolbox,” he said at a hearing Thursday morning.
Stabenow warned, “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.”
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., added, “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.”
But agricultural groups were quick to point out they’ve fought this off in past fights, but it won’t make the fight any easier.
“This exercise is not a new one,” said Ron Moore, president of the American Soybean Association. “We’re aware that Congress—not the president—passes the budget, and agriculture has rebuffed attacks on farm and food programs for years. The danger is that the extreme and ill-informed cuts in this document will embolden those in Congress who lack any understanding of how these programs combine to protect the food and farm supply chain for all Americans.”
Only two months ago President Trump was praising the work of our farmers and ranchers for National Ag Day. “Farmers aren't looking for praise; they're looking for a fair shake. Sadly, in the first round of the Washington budget game, they have come up short on both,” Hinton said.