Farm groups see Trump budget as a blow to family farmers

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
The President's FY19 Budget is on display after arriving on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018.

WASHINGTON - With a budget touted as "Efficient, Effective, Accountable," the White House released its proposed fiscal year 2019 budget on Feb. 12 — a proposed $4.4 trillion budget with deep cuts to domestic programs.

Agriculture was not spared in the $1.8 trillion cuts from mandatory spending programs, over the next 10 years, according to a report on AgDay TV. Requesting a 16 percent decrease from 2017 levels, $47 billion in cuts over 10 years were listed in the budget, including cuts in crop insurance and other farm programs. 

The President's FY19 Budget is on display after arriving on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to cut its discretionary budget by $3.5 billion, or 15 percent. The cuts would also include reducing federal crop insurance subsidies, cutting spending for conservation programs and foreign food aid and slashing more than $17 billion from funds available to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, over the next 10 years.

Among key agricultural changes are limiting eligibility in the crop insurance program and capping premium subsidies, cutting $136 million in funding for conservation programs, eliminating the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program and discontinuing the $166 million Food for Progress aid program, according to the Washington Post. 

President Donald Trump speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, during a meeting with state and local officials about infrastructure.

Groups oppose cuts

Farm groups like the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Soy Growers opposed the cuts calling them another blow to family farmers. 

The NFU said, over the next decade, the $4.4 trillion budget would "severely cut many programs that family farmers and ranchers and rural Americans rely on," including $48.6 billion from Farm Bill programs, $3.7 billion from the USDA, $213 billion from SNAP, $554 billion from Medicare and $250 billion from Medicaid.

"These proposed cuts come on the heels of a massive tax cut for corporations and wealthy Americans, as well as the fifth straight year of projected declines in net farm income," NFU said in a statement. 

In response to the budget, NFU President Roger Johnson called the budget disappointing - to say the least.

Roger Johnson

"This administration has consistently demonstrated a lack of support for the most vulnerable populations, and this plan is just more of the same. It is frankly disgusting that the government has offered corporations and the wealthiest among us a $1.5 trillion gift in the form of tax cuts while proposing deep cuts to programs so important for low- and middle-class Americans,"Johnson said. “At the same time, this policy fails to step up for family farmers and ranchers, who are expected to endure yet another year of declining farm income. As the farm economy continues to falter, this is the time for the government to step in and boost rural America up, not yank the rug out from underneath them."

The American Soybean Association (ASA) voiced its opposition to President Donald Trump's FY2019 budget. ASA President John Heisdorffer, a farmer from Keota, Iowa, warned Congress to avoid the cuts, which would do significant harm to the nation's soybean farmers. 

“The proposed cuts in crop insurance and farm programs make this budget a non-starter. We’ve opposed cuts to crop insurance from Republican and Democratic administrations alike. This budget revisits those cuts to an even greater degree, cutting crop insurance by approximately 30 percent," Heisdorffer said in a statement. "It would also eliminate the MAP and FMD export promotion programs, which we rely on to expand our reach into new and existing export markets around the world. Additionally in this budget, we’re looking at ill-advised cuts to international food assistance programs, conservation programs and to valuable agricultural research.

Iowa farmer John Heisdorffer became the 2018 president of American Soybean Association board.

“As the farm economy continues to struggle in its recovery, farmers cannot afford these backbreaking cuts. And while we understand that the White House budget is considered by many to be an illustrative policy document, we are concerned that this approach only emboldens those in Congress that would see these programs significantly reduced or entirely eliminated," Heisdorffer continued. "We strongly urge Congress to push this budget to the side and continue to advance practical farm policy.”

The Center for Rural Affairs said America stands to suffer as a result of the proposed budget. 

“The President has proposed again to eliminate or shrink many programs that serve rural America, including those supporting rural businesses, cooperatives, and housing,” said Center for Rural Affairs policy associate Anna Johnson. “The President is also calling for an investment of $50 billion in rural infrastructure, but this could put the onus on states already struggling with the economic fallout of depressed commodity prices.”

Anna Johnson

In addition, Trump’s budget slashes working lands conservation programs by proposing the elimination of the Conservation Stewardship Program, according to the Center for Rural Affairs.

Johnson said it would be a grave error to remove this vital support to farmers and ranchers.

“The Conservation Stewardship Program gives farmers and ranchers an incredibly important opportunity to plant cover crops, practice soil conservation tillage, and improve pasture land,” she said. “Eliminating it would do serious damage to our farmers’ and ranchers’ abilities to preserve water quality and build soil health while also maintaining productive operations.”

Trump budget again targets water cleanup programs

SNAP cuts

Another program threatened by the President’s budget is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) cautioned his colleagues in both the House and the Senate against removing nutrition programs from the farm bill during an interview with AgDay TV. 

Sen. Jerry Moran

Being through conference committees on three farm bills during his time in Congress, Moran said,  “We are able to pass a farm bill because we work together with people who have little interest in agricultural policy but care a lot about those nutrition programs and if we undo that coalition the chances of getting the farm bill completed begin to disappear.”

Jordan Rasmussen, Center for Rural Affairs policy associate, called SNAP, which is set to expire in September 2108, the "linchpin between rural and urban representatives in the passage of the farm bill."

Rasmussen continued, “Beyond the revocation of funding, the budget outlines a plan to reduce direct SNAP assistance, and instead, distribute quantities of ‘American grown,’ shelf-stable items like milk, peanut butter, cereals, and canned meats. This action would not only destabilize attempts to bring more healthy, fresh foods into the homes of America’s food insecure, but would keep dollars out of local grocery stores and farmers markets, which are critical assets to all communities.”

There was a positive note ringing from the budget, however.

The budget includes proposals that would bring greater fairness to farming communities, according to Johnson. 

For example, the budget targets commodity, conservation, and crop insurance assistance to producers with adjusted gross incomes of $500,000 or less. A similar proposal would limit the number of people who can register as a farm manager and thereby receive payments, according to the Center for Rural Affairs.

“These proposals would bring long-awaited fairness to our agricultural communities,” Johnson said. “For too long, the largest farms have had access to more support than small and mid-sized farms. This competitive advantage for large farms has contributed to farm consolidation and shrinking rural communities.”

Johnson said President Trump’s budget proposal would drain support for rural America.

"We fear these actions represent a lack of understanding of rural America’s struggles," she said. "We urge President Trump, U.S. Department of Agriculture Sec. Perdue, and their teams to cease these actions that undercut rural Americans and rural communities.”

Infrastructure plan

Trump met with state and local leaders on Monday to discuss his administration's infrastructure plan. 

The president tweeted Monday that after "so stupidly spending $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is now time to start investing in OUR Country!"

The White House is unveiling its goal of spurring $1.5 trillion in funding over 10 years to rebuild roads, highways, ports and airports. The plan centers on using $200 billion in federal money to leverage local and state dollars for the projects.

Zippy Duvall

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said the plan paves the way for boosting rural economy. 

“President Trump’s ‘Building a Stronger America’ plan promises to bring long overdue improvements to the country roads, bridges and broader infrastructure that farmers and ranchers depend on to reach customers at home and abroad. While past infrastructure plans have left rural America in the dust, this administration has not forgotten the rural communities that form the backbone of our nation," AFBF President Zippy Duvall said, "The proposed $50 billion in rural spending will help restore our deteriorating infrastructure and protect U.S. agriculture’s place as a world leader in production."

"We also applaud the administration for placing the decisions of how these dollars should be spent back at the local level. Governors and local officials know their roads and bridges better than anyone, and they are ready to set the priorities for rebuilding rural America," Duvall added. "Farmers and ranchers know the pride of ownership and a hard day’s work, and the president’s infrastructure plan rewards those values. With less bureaucratic red tape and more local ownership, we’re confident this plan gives rural America the tools to drive our economy forward.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.