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Budget plan only a starting point


The Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 federal budget blueprint for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been met with caution and opposition among agriculture leaders. Many insist that agriculture has already done enough cost-cutting, and may be in dire straits if budget cuts are piled onto an already struggling farm economy.

The blueprint, released on March 16, calls for a 21 percent or a $4.7 billion reduction in USDA discretionary spending, through reductions in USDA local county staffing, as well as reductions to Ag Research and Rural Development projects, including elimination of a $498 million USDA  Loan & Grant program for rural water and wastewater projects.

While concern over the budget blueprint is understandable, Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) National Affairs Specialist, John Kran urged calm and patience, saying the real budget work will be done in Congress. He stressed that farmers and consumers need to provide input throughout the process.

“This is just a starting point for the conversation, but it’s Congress who writes the budget, not the President,” Kran said. “Ironically, we shared our message on the 2018 farm bill with Michigan’s Congressional delegation just this week during our Washington Legislative Seminar – no more budget cuts for agriculture.”

According to Kran, the 2014 farm bill was projected to contribute a $23 billion in savings to deficit reduction over 10 years at the time of passage. That was the first time when spending for a farm bill was voluntarily reduced before Congress even began considering the measure. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, the current farm bill will actually save $104 billion over 10 years

“Our members asked congressional members to reject calls for additional cuts, especially at a time when the agricultural and rural economies are showing stress,” Kran explained. “U.S. farm income has declined 46 percent from only three years ago.”

John Newton, director of market intelligence for the American Farm Bureau Federation Newton said congressional hearings on the 2018 Farm Bill are already under way and will include a series of “field hearings,” including one in Michigan sometime this spring.

Newton said it’s important that farmers stress the importance of the safety net created by the farm bill for farmers and consumers. He also encouraged Congress to keep food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the 2018 Farm Bill.

“They’ve been together since the early 1970s and it really helps to form a balanced bill that can make it through the House of Representatives and ultimately the Senate,” Newton explained. “The Farm Bill is a $1 trillion package over 10 years, with about 80 percent of the budget going to food assistance and nutrition programs.”

Agriculture Budget Blueprint Summary

The president’s budget proposes $17.9 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) in FY18. This is a decrease of 21 percent or $4.7 billion below the FY17 continuing resolution.

International Food Aid:  The blueprint eliminates the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program. AFBF opposes the elimination of this program which purchases U.S. commodities to provide food security to food deficit countries around the world.

Agricultural Statistics: The blueprint reduces funding for USDA’s statistical capabilities. AFBF oppose this reduction which would limit the essential business information farmers and ranchers use to guide their business decisions.

Agricultural Research: The blueprint continues funding for farmer-focused research, extension partnerships at land-grant universities and provides around $350 million for USDA’s competitive research program. AFBF supports this critical funding that allows farmers to utilize technological advancement to feed a world’s growing population.

Food Safety and Inspection Service:  The blueprint fully funds the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which AFBF supports.