WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget will be devastating to farmers and small town communities throughout Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown said Thursday.
Brown, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told journalists in a conference call that the proposed cuts would send the wrong message to Ohio farmers and rural communities at a time when these communities need a strong partnership with the state and federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Earlier in the day, Brown and fellow senators held the first hearing on the 2018 Farm Bill.
“Before we get to the Farm Bill, we need to address the budget proposal that came out of the White House this week that surely hurts agriculture, which will surely devastate rural communities. Farmers across Ohio depend on crop insurance, particularly when facing low crop prices. I am concerned that the massive cuts proposed in the President’s budget are unworkable, even with healthier crop prices than we have right now,” Brown said.
He said he is also “deeply concerned” about the cuts in conservation programs; and the proposed elimination of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. “We’ve talked about the importance of conservation efforts in terms partly of farm income and partly in terms of reducing runoff and benefiting Lake Erie. We are starting to ramp up these programs and starting to see the benefits.”
Brown said it is “just plain stupid to eliminate them now. Nor is it time to cut back the research investment that is an essential reason that American agriculture is the envy of the world. We know what is going on in Wooster, we know what is going on at Ohio State, we know what is going on with farmers and research that’s happening all over the state.”
The USDA is facing a $4.7 billion budget cut under President Trump’s federal spending blueprint. His proposed budget cuts USDA funding by 21 percent, to $17.9 billion. The programs targeted for cuts are in the “discretionary” spending category. That includes food safety, rural development and conservation funding, and international food aid, according to news reports.
The budget does not cut programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The budget report also “reduces duplicative and underperforming programs by eliminating discretionary activities of the Rural Business and Cooperative Services, a savings of $95 million,” it adds.
Brown pointed out that the budget proposes scaling back a variety of important research programs like food safety. “Ohio farmers need the USDA leadership in research knowledge, not only so they can have stronger and higher yields, but also so they can fight threats such as bird flu and other diseases that can threaten livestock here in the 21st century,” he said.
“This budget will not only hurt farmers but those Ohioans who live in rural communities. This budget completely eliminates the USDA’s water and wastewater programs that help small towns keep water clean. We know that small communities simply cannot spread the cost fairly enough, deeply enough and cheaply enough to pay for water and sewer in small communities. That’s why we have the USDA — you need a federal, state and local partnership.” Brown said the cuts come just days after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue announced eliminating the position of under secretary for Rural Development.
“The USDA and Rural Development have provided support for everything from opioid addiction, to rural hospitals to securing loans for citizens. They have provided in Ohio nearly $6 billion in loans and grants between 2009 and 2016,” said Brown.
He said that in roundtables in rural Ohio communities people tell him that rural communities are too often overlooked by Washington. “Downgrading the USDA’s Rural Development Program sends a message that the Administration doesn’t really much care for rural Ohioans; that the government’s not behind people and that’s just wrong.”
Brown said that “No matter what, I will keep fighting to make sure that Ohio communities and Ohio farmers get the support they need.”
Brown was asked if the 2018 Farm Bill should be off the table as far as the federal budget is concerned? “Yes, if you remember the 2014 Farm Bill contributed to deficit reduction — over $20 billion. When we were able to do that, you don’t come back with a Farm Bill and start making cuts there. It’s not fair to Small Town, Ohio and not fair to farmers. It’s also not good policy. It undercuts what we were able to do with the last Farm Bill and hope to do with the next Farm Bill.”
In the Agriculture Committee, Brown said the cut to agriculture is a “non-starter for everybody.” He said that while agriculture is different throughout the country, what they all have in common is a desire for fair prices, rural development and a desire for partnership between, federal, state and local farmers. “This has worked since the Roosevelt days and there is not reason to cut that off,” he added.
“We cannot let agriculture policy drift. It would be disastrous for far too many rural communities.”
Brown took part in the first Agriculture Committee hearing on the 2018 Farm Bill earlier in the day, saying the senators focused “especially on the farm and rural economy. It is particularly important when you focus on this number: 85 percent of U.S. farms are small family farms, and most incomes on these small farms comes from off-farm wages or businesses. That’s important to remember.”
He said one of the witnesses Thursday from Oregon said that even in his most rural and agriculture dominated counties so many people rely on off-farm wages. “That’s the importance of what we talk about in rural development and how important other opportunities are for those in rural communities, not just for wages but for benefits and health care.”
He said they will be holding roundtables on the 2018 Farm Bill around the state in the coming years. Those locations and dates will be announced later.