Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue testified Tuesday morning before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, defending proposed cuts to agriculture programs. Senators took the opportunity to lecture the Secretary on why proposed cuts in some USDA programs are not a good idea. Chair John Hoeven (R-ND) said agriculture has already done its fair share to help balance the budget, “Over the next 10 years, the Farm Bill program will save $104 billion. Clearly agriculture is doing its part to reduce the federal deficit.”
Outspoken Trump critic, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) was a bit more forthright. He called the Trump administration’s budget proposal for agriculture “heartless.” “Spending for agriculture and rural development is cut $5billion or about 23%,” he stated. “More than 20 research programs are eliminated, the Farm Service Administration would lose about 1000 employees, the proposals for the nutrition programs both domestic and international are short sighted and heartless.”
Perdue tried to reassure the senators that, despite budget cuts, he is committed to a safety net for producers, especially in this tough economic times. In his opening statement, he said, “I am here today to present to you the Administration’s budget for the Department. The President’s Budget for 2018 for USDA programs within this Subcommittee is about $135 billion, of which approximately $122 billion is mandatory funding. The majority of these funds support crop insurance, nutrition assistance programs, farm commodity and trade programs and a number of conservation programs.”
Purdue also reiterated his strong support for rural development, “I am confident in the future of rural America and see opportunities for us to continue to strengthen this outlook and create opportunities for rural America.” Katrina Hall, with Indiana Farm Bureau, says this is an area where Farm Bureau has some concerns but is willing to take a wait and see approach, “It is early in the administration so we are willing to see how they approach rural development.” She told HAT the selection of Anne Hazlett to head Rural Development programs gives them more confidence that this is an issue that will get attention at USDA. AFBF President Zippy Duvall praised the selection of Hazlett to oversee Rural Affairs programs, “As Congress weighs in on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s proposal to reorganize USDA, we commend him for putting an experienced hand on his team as Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development. As the proposed reorganization moves forward, it is heartening to know Ms. Hazlett will have an open door and will report directly to the Secretary as she carries out this crucial responsibility of advancing policies and programs to serve rural America.”
IFB will be sponsoring a special ag policy forum on June 27 in Indianapolis to discuss these issues and get grassroots support.