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New broom should sweep carefully…

Ag research, rural development, statistics, and funding for other programs important to agriculture would be significantly reduced in the proposed fiscal 2018 federal budget.

Be careful what you wish for, the old saying goes, because you just might get it. The inference being that things don’t always turn out as we want them to — and in fact they could be worse.

It’s far too early to tell, of course, what will be the case with the new administration and the gonna-get-the-government-out-of-your-lives, everything-is-going-to-be-just-wonderful-believe-me mantra that continues after the campaign is history.

Getting the government out of our lives would, according to the administration’s FY 2018 budget proposal, entail a whopping 21 percent whack for agriculture funding, most notably for agricultural research, which funnels many millions of dollars annually to land grant universities, USDA research facilities, and other operations that carry out important programs to give farmers better varieties, more sophisticated equipment and technologies, better management systems.

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Funding for agricultural research, agricultural statistics, and other programs important to the nation's farmers, would be significantly reduced in the proposed federal budget for fiscal 2018.

 

Rural development programs are also on the chopping block, and staff reductions are proposed for USDA service centers nationwide, many of which are already understaffed. Eliminated would be the water/wastewater loan/grant programs for rural areas, and the Rural Business and Cooperative Service would be cut by $95 million.

Although there aren’t a lot of specifics, the proposed budget apparently doesn’t include cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps/cards), which accounts for by far the majority of the money allocated to agriculture, about 80 percent, nor does it appear that the various crop subsidy programs are impacted (but you can bet further cuts will be proposed by anti-agriculture proponents in the debate soon to start on the next farm bill).

The Trump budget would eliminate or zero out many programs, including the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority, both of which have invested millions of public and private dollars in infrastructure and job creation projects. The Delta Regional Authority has invested over $100 million in projects in the 252-county/parish region it serves, which includes parts of Mississippi, Arkansas Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri. The 12-state Appalachian Regional Commission, which includes parts of Mississippi and Tennessee not covered by the Delta Regional Authority, was created with the aim of fostering opportunities for self-sustaining economic development and improved quality of life in the region. Critics maintain that neither agency has lived up to its promise and that they should be abolished.

Also on the chopping block would be money for the National Agricultural Statistics Service, which generates hundreds of reports annually on crop/livestock acreage, yields, and production — information that’s critical to farmers in making planting/marketing decisions. In the budget cutting crosshairs is the USDA’S Economic Research Service, which develops important economic analyses on food, agriculture, natural resources and economic development that are widely used by farmers, agribusiness, and other government agencies. And cuts are proposed for international food aid programs, which have provided another market for U.S. food crops.

Will private industry step in and fill these very big gaps if they come to pass? Who knows?

The future of exports, a major component of U.S. agriculture and farmer income, is in something of political limbo as the administration continues its threats to dismantle NAFTA and to scuttle TPP without it ever getting a vote. At the same time, administration officials are telling farm groups that retaliation by other countries playing tit-for-tat against more restrictive U.S. trade policies won’t be tolerated. The makings of a trade war? Anybody’s guess.

All this, while net farm income has dropped 50 percent from four years ago — the largest four-year percentage decline since the Great Depression.

To his credit, Mr. Trump, as he begins settling into his presidency, has shown that he is willing to change his mind and his position, as he did re: Syria’s genocidal despot Bashar al-Assad, and as he appears to be doing in a cooling of his overt admiration and appreciation of Russia’s dictator Vladimir Putin.

Perhaps, down the line, he will also take a less hard line approach to U.S. trade, immigration, and farm programs that help provide American’s an abundant, safe food supply, at a cost far less than in most of the rest of the world.

TAGS: Farm Bill
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