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Leaders of Senate Agriculture Committee Say No to Farm Bill Cuts

Two days after President Trump proposed large cuts in food stamps and farm supports, the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee spoke out against funding cuts as the panel prepares to write the 2018 farm bill. Committee chair Republican Pat Roberts, took aim at reduced farm supports, particularly crop insurance, saying “Now is not the time for additional cuts.” The panel’s senior Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, opposed proposed cuts in rural development and public nutrition as well.

“The proposal cuts $231 billion from farm bill programs, which would make a five-year farm bill virtually impossible to pass,” said Stabenow. The administration proposed cuts 10 times larger than those written into the 2014 farm law.

The fiscal 2018 budget proposed by the White House would cut food stamps by $193 billion, or 25%, over 10 years, and crop insurance by $29 billion. It would also downsize land stewardship initiatives and eliminate many rural development programs.

At a hearing on the agricultural economy, Roberts pointed to a slump in both farm income and commodity prices since the collapse of the agricultural boom in 2013. USDA chief economist Robert Johansson said the farm sector was “in a very flat price environment,” and Nathan Kaufman, an economist at the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, said farmers were using up their cash reserves due to tight margins. “We haven’t seen it turn into an issue of solvency,” said Kaufman, because land values have held up well. Land is four fifths of farm assets.

“One thing is clear—times are challenging right now in farm country,” said Roberts. “Farmers, ranchers, and rural families understand fiscal responsibility. They want to do their parts. But now is not the time for additional cuts.”

“We need to make sure that producers have risk-management tools at their disposal. Let me emphasize that crop insurance is the most valuable tool in the risk-management tool box,” Roberts said, repeating the sentence on crop insurance twice. Crop insurance is the largest strand in the farm safety net, worth nearly $8 billion a year.

Stabenow said the Trump budget “would have devastating effects on our farmers and rural families. … More than 500 groups representing farmers, conservationists, rural communities, and food advocates wrote a letter that we should not make — we should not make — any further cuts. And I agree,” she said.

FERN’s Ag Insider. Produced by FERN
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