Trump’s 2018 budget proposal is out, and unsurprisingly, the cuts are huge. Some anticipated crazy cuts to the United States Department of Agriculture’s social program. Those cuts still exist, of course—this is President Donald Trump, after all. But what the new budget really shows as far as agriculture goes is that the current administration wants farmers’ safety nets gone.
The rural United States voted overwhelmingly for a guy who lives in a big expensive New York City apartment. In return, they got a government that wants to cut twenty percent of the USDA’s budget—the second highest proposed cut by percentage to any cabinet department. But based on past sentiments expressed by lawmakers, it’s unlikely this budget will receive broad support.
As-is, the budget seeks to cut agriculture spending by around $46.5 billion over ten years. This comes mostly from drastic changes to the Farm Bill, but the budget also includes some curious changes that seem to exist solely to alienate folks working in the food and farming industries. That includes cutting a zero-interest loan program for rural infrastructure development, and various fees paid to food and health inspectors. Also, the budget seeks to cut $111 million worth of unspecified “small programs,” whatever the heck a hundred million dollar “small program” is.
Given how much money is now on the chopping block, you should know what the Farm Bill is. Actually called the Agricultural Act of 2014 (but passed periodically since the 1930s) the farm bill used to consist of support for staple crops like corn, wheat, dairy, and soy. Now, it’s a bill passed regularly with lots of loosely related policies covering farms, public health, nutrition, and bioenergy. The budget calls for between 3.5 and 5 billion dollars in cuts from the farm bill annually over the next ten years. But while the some of those cuts come from eliminating “small programs” and “streamlining conservation programs,” the lion’s share comes from changes to crop insurance. The government wants to dole out less money to subsidize insurance plans it encouraged farmers to buy several decades ago.
Ok, time for some very exciting insurance talk.
For one, the budget proposal seeks to cap the amount of money individual farms can receive to pay for their crop insurance premiums. In other words, “We’re going to give you less money,” said the government. Additionally, the budget would eliminate money for harvest price options—something 80 percent of crop insurance plans have, where farmers are are guaranteed revenue based on the crop price at harvest, if it’s higher than the projected price when they plant the plants. In other words, “We’re going to give you less money,” said the government.
It’s easy to see how these harvest price options can save a farmer’s ass. If a farmer insures their crop based on a projected crop price at harvest time and loses that crop, they’ll get compensated based on the actual price at harvest time if they have a harvest price option on their plan.
It’s important to note that President Obama wanted to make similar changes, having farmers pay higher insurance premiums for plans with the harvest price options. And lawmakers rejected less drastic reforms when Obama was president, both these facts according to the Food and Environmental Reporting Network. Some people think the money from crop insurance has mainly gone to giant agribusinesses, rather than the “small family farmers” everyone always talks about supporting, according to the Wall Street Journal. Others think cutting the funds might cause crop prices to rise.
You think farmers are happy? No. The guy a lot of these farmers voted for wants to give them less money for their crops. The number of farms has already declined dramatically as average farm size has increased, according to reporting by the Washington Post.
“Such cuts would leave farmers, ranchers, and consumers without an effective safety net, and would make passing a new Farm Bill almost certainly impossible,” National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson told the Associated Press.
On top of that, Trump’s budget proposal lists steep cuts to food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). It does not, however, mention any of the USDA’s science initiatives, like the Agricultural Research Service, the USDA’s main research agency.
This isn’t what the final budget will be—Congress ultimately determines what will be on that. But, if any farmers happening to be clicking over to Gizmodo dot com, they’d probably agree that, dang, I thought this was the guy who said that “Our farmers deserve a government that serves their interest and empowers them to do the hard work that they love to do so much.”
Maybe taking away insurance protections is what he meant by “empowers them to do the hard work.”