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Farm groups express concern about White House budget proposal

WASHINGTON — The White House budget released on Monday, May 22, would mean big cuts for agriculture, including new limits on federal subsidies for crop insurance premiums, caps for commodity payments, reductions in funding for rural development, conservation and nutrition, and closed research facilities.

The proposal would amount to $46.54 billion in cuts over 10 years, both in proposed law changes and reductions in discretionary funding at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The proposal also would cut the USDA workforce by 5,263 positions, or 5.5 percent overall.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, speaking in a conference with reporters, said Tuesday, May 23, there was no reason to "sugarcoat" the proposal and acknowledged his department likely will face significant cuts. But he insisted the cuts will help reduce or eliminate the budget deficit.

"I think the people knew what they were doing when they elected President Trump," Perdue said.

Farm groups and farm-state politicians were quick to condemn the budget proposal and point to the devastating effects it could have.

"Clearly, this budget fails agriculture and rural America," Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Foundation, said in a statement.

"The proposal slashes crop insurance by $29 billion, conservation programs by $6 billion and [Supplemental Nutrition Program Assistance] by $191 billion, in addition to $3 billion in cuts to other farm programs," said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson in a statement. "Such cuts would leave farmers, ranchers, and consumers without an effective safety net and would make passing a new farm bill almost certainly impossible."

"President Trump came to the presidency with the stated goal of 'draining the swamp' and cutting federal spending. Instead, the new administration's first budget proposal would drain support for rural America," said Center for Rural Affairs Policy Associate Anna Johnson in a statement.

The proposal has been in the works since long before Perdue was confirmed as agriculture secretary, said Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Young.

Members of North Dakota's congressional delegation came out with strong statements against the cuts to agriculture programs and pointed out Congress will determine the ultimate budget.

"Cuts to programs like crop insurance, conservation reserve program and agriculture research are unacceptable, especially when our farmers and ranchers face challenges due to low commodity prices," said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who chairs the Senate's ag appropriations committee, in a statement.

"Especially at a time of low commodity prices, this budget goes in the wrong direction — a direction that would leave rural America behind," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who serves with Hoeven on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, in a statement.

Similar statements from farm-state politicians across the country and on both sides of the aisle indicated the budget has little chance of passing as is.

Among the concerns were proposed changes to the federal crop insurance program. The budget proposes limiting Commodity Credit Corp. program benefits and crop insurance premium assistance to producers with adjusted gross incomes of $500,000 or less. It would limit insurance premium subsidies to $40,000. It also proposes eliminating harvest price revenue coverage, a feature of revenue insurance that allows producers to insure at the higher of the projected price at planting or the harvest.

While those changes were estimated to save $28.8 billion over 10 years, the price to farmers is considered too high for many in agriculture to stomach.

"The current farm economy demonstrates how important these programs are," said Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Paap in a statement. "Cutting them would be devastating to farm families, our state and rural Minnesota economies."

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., called the cuts to the federal crop insurance program "misguided."

In the call with reporters, Young struggled to justify the propositions, especially those related to crop insurance, other than to repeat that they were aimed at reducing the deficit and will be up to Congress to enact.

Conservation programs also would take a big hit under the proposal. The budget says agricultural conservation "is not an inherently governmental function" and calls for more private-sector funding.

The National Corn Growers Association decried proposed cuts to crop insurance, conservation, the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development.

"These proposed budget cuts would hurt farmers' ability to manage risk, grow their revenues, and farm more sustainably," the group said in a statement.

Projected to be eliminated in the budget are the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, which offers programs to support business development and job training opportunities for rural residents, the Water and Wastewater Direct Loan and grant program, and the Single Family Housing Direct Loan program.

Anna Johnson with the Center for Rural Affairs Policy also said cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could hurt families in rural areas, "where an estimated 15 percent of households receive SNAP assistance."