Opinion: Trump Budget rips USDA (farmers beware!)

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Dave Dickey

The White House budget wants to take a blow torch, machete, atomic bomb or … fill in your device of total devastation … to USDA’s budget.

Specifically, the POTUS proposal would love to gut crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or what folks call food stamps).

President Donald Trump and his budget director Mike Mulvaney is calling for reducing subsidies to farmers by $38 billion over 10 years by making farmers making more than $500,000 a year ineligible.  The Trump budget would also eliminate insurance when per-acre yields decline (isn’t that what crop insurance is for?) as well as falling crop prices.

This is just the latest salvo of the president’s ham-handling of the rural voters who by and large put him in the White House.

I have previously wondered where Trump stands on most agricultural issues – and lots of times it ain’t with the farmer.

Urban dweller Trump probably isn’t acutely aware of the particulars of the economic crisis brewing in the rural sector.

So let me articulate.

Farmers have had three consecutive years of falling income and right now 2017 doesn’t look like it will break that streak.

USDA’s Economic Research Service reports:

“Net farm income, a broader measure of profitability because it includes non-cash values such as inventory flows and economic depreciation, is forecast at $62.3 billion ($54.8 billion after adjusting for inflation) for 2017, down 8.7 percent compared to 2016.”

Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas – Trump red states –  all stand to be especially affected.

In case you’re wondering, farm related activities account for about 21 million jobs and contribute nearly $1 trillion dollars (yup a TRILLLION) to gross domestic product.

It’s yuge Mr. President.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue tried to spin Trump’s crop insurance reductions in Great Falls, Montana late in May:

“But just let’s face it, you don’t buy insurance on your house hoping it’ll burn down, do you? We don’t want to do that. And neither do we want to buy crop insurance hoping our crop fails so we can file,” Perdue said. “So, we’ve got to get out of the mindset that, if I invest a dollar in crop insurance, I want to make sure I get a dollar-ten or plus out of that.”

Perdue’s tough love remarks were met with mostly silence.

The White House doesn’t think much of SNAP either.

It’s proposing a $191 billion cut in SNAP, roughly a 30 percent reduction.  Mulvaney also wants to increase work requirements to receive benefits.

Members of the GOP were not all that impressed with the budget rollout.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a farmer himself, said Trumpian crop insurance cuts are dead on arrival.

House Ag chairman Michael Conaway was even more direct saying “We think it’s wrongheaded.”

Conaway has also been holding a number of hearings on SNAP in preparation for farm-billFarm Bill 2018, but he acknowledges that gutting the program isn’t a good idea.

The discourse thus far – especially about crop insurance – show that the president really doesn’t get it when it comes to farming.

It’s about food security for the U.S.

Think about it for a moment – if enough producers lose money in any given crop year, and lenders are reluctant to front them cash to put in a new crop, who’s going to grow the food we eat?

Farmers are not getting rich off of crop insurance.

Fortunately for ag producers, Congress isn’t buying what Trump is selling.

A bad deal is a bad deal Mr. President.

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.

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