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Trump’s USDA budget: Concerning but only a starting point

WASHINGTON -- For all the anxiety resulting from President Donald Trump’s proposed USDA 2018 budget, Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) Associate National Legislative Counsel suggest it might be wise to remember one crucial aspect about the budget proposals - “It is only a proposal,” he advised.

“It is Congress that ultimately passes and implements a budget,” Kran said. “While concern is warranted, the final budget and the final 2018 farm bill will look vastly different tomorrow than it does today. That being said, we don’t support these proposed cuts and will make sure lawmakers and the administration know how detrimental they could be to Michigan agriculture.”

Backing up that organizational focus with lawmakers, is a 9-member MFB Farm Bill Task Force shaping how the organization will influence development of the 2018 Farm Bill with congressional members. Made up of farmers from across the state representing a diverse mix of commodities, the group has already been active in meeting with agricultural economist and USDA farm program experts.

Ironically, says Kran, the task force had already identified three farm program priorities for the 2018 farm bill: risk management/crop insurance/whole revenue protection; specialty crops and related research; and dairy programs – all areas that could be significantly impacted under the Trump proposal.

According to Kran the detrimental aspects of the Trump administration’s USDA budget proposal are plentiful and significant if left unchecked – for farmers and consumers. Overall farm bill spending would be cut $240 billion over a 10-year period. Approximately $46 billion of those reductions would come from agriculture programs – while the other $194 billion would be slashed from nutrition programs.Within agriculture programs funding, crop insurance revisions represent more than 63 percent of the total cuts designed to reduce federal outlays by more than $29 billion over the next 10 years. Conservation-related program funding is targeted for another $5.7 billion reduction over 10 years, according to MFB Ag Ecology Manager, Laura Campbell

“This proposed budget cut of nearly $6 billion to conservation programs will severely affect the ability of Natural Resources & Conservation staff and the Farm Service Agency to keep their offices staffed, provide the equipment and training those staff need, and provide the technical and financial assistance farmers need,” Campbell explained.

Farmers voluntarily invest considerable time and money in environmental improvement programs, says Campbell to protect soil, air, and water quality. “This proposal would dramatically increase the financial burden on Michigan farmers, while also limiting the availability of technical support services, such as engineering, farmers need to establish these practices on their farms,” she said.

According to Campbell, the budget proposal calls for total elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which provides $300 million in funding for a wide range of water protection activities throughout the Great Lakes region.

“Congress had expressly included full funding for this program through the year 2021, but this proposal would eliminate the fund and its ability to provide for projects like beach monitoring, storm and sewer infrastructure upgrades, river bank restoration, agricultural conservation practices to prevent erosion and loss of nutrients, and many more,” Campbell said. “Michigan’s unique position at the heart of the Great Lakes and this state’s strong commitment to both agricultural production and natural resource protection would be threatened by such a severe cut.”

Beyond cuts to conservation programs, Kran says the proposed budget also slashes USDA research funds by nearly $320 million, affecting the Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which are some of the primary supporters of research into food production and food safety.

“Their ability to fund research for water quality protection, disease and pest management, and many other initiatives will be severely damaged, including research done on many of Michigan’s valuable fruit, vegetable, and livestock sectors,” Kran said.