President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget proposal includes a fifteen percent cut to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Critics fear that, if Congress approves the $3.6 billion budget slash, it will undermine safety net programs that Tennessee farmers rely on to mitigate unanticipated losses.
Anthony Shelton, director of The University of Tennessee’s Agriculture Extension Office in Washington County, said severe weather events can cause profits to fluctuate in ways out of one’s control.
In reference to recent flooding in Northeast Tennessee, Shelton said, “This is not the growing season. If we had the floods come in June, July, August, we would have detrimental losses.”
The federal government subsidizes crop insurance for farmers across the country to stabilize their income year-to-year and protect billions worth of agricultural products, according to Aaron Smith, an assistant professor in UT’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
President Trump’s proposal asked USDA to use taxpayer dollars more efficiently by making reforms to “overly generous” subsidy programs.
His proposal would reduce the average insurance payout from USDA from 62 percent to 48 percent.
Farmers would pay the difference out of pocket, according to Smith.
“That is, right now, a real tough pill for a lot of farmers to swallow because incomes are much, much lower than they’ve been in the past,” said Smith.
Smith also said the president’s proposal lacks key details on implementation.
“You really do need those details to fully evaluate what the repercussions are going to be,” said Smith. “I’m all for improving the efficiency of the programs and making sure that it’s accomplishing the priorities as set forth but just cutting for the sake of cutting without fully determining what the consequences are is a very dangerous policy.”
Presidential budget proposals set priorities but Congress holds the power of the purse.
Northeast Tennessee Congressman Phil Roe predicts a 15 percent cut to USDA won’t make it to the final budget.
“I think when the dust settles, when the Agriculture Committee authorizes the amount of money spent, I think you’ll see very little difference there,” said Rep. Roe in reference to 2019 spending levels.
A statement from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, in part, “With our national debt soaring to over $22 trillion, we can no longer kick the can down the road. The time to act is now and USDA will actively do its part in reducing federal spending.”