Ag Secretary answers to House committee on budget issues

Members of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture are concerned about President Donald Trump’s ag budget.  During opening remarks to a hearing Wednesday, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt questioned the administration’s cuts.  “Popular programs with proven track records received some of the steepest reductions or were outright eliminated altogether.”

Ranking Member Sanford Bishop from Georgia is disappointed in several proposed cuts including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program and foreign ag services.  “While I recognize and deeply appreciate the importance of strengthening our military, supporting our veterans, and keeping our country safe, it appears the administration is doing that at the direct expense of the citizens we’re supposed to protect.”

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue told the committee the budget has enhancements for exports and for farm credit.  “The budget supports a loan level of approximately seven billion dollars to support farm ownership and operating loans for 42-thousand producers.  This is an enhancement.”

Bishop told the Secretary he’s all for efficiencies but wants to make sure USDA has the resources to carry out its mission.

The Ag Secretary says he intends to keep pushing for more foreign ag trade even if the Market Assistance Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) programs are discontinued. “My administration of USDA is going to be all over our programs, where we have to find the dollars over helping our commodity groups sell their products, promote their products worldwide, we’re going to do that.”

And, Perdue wants better enforcement of trade deals.  “I think the Canadian dairy issue is one of those now, as Canada has manipulated some prices and classes of milk and have put pressure on our producers, particularly in the northern part (of the U.S.), and created more milk and more milk solids than we need.”

President Trump’s budget calls for cuts to the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs. Perdue said moving the crop insurance safety net in the last Farm Bill away from direct payments was wise, but wants producers to have additional market-based risk management solutions.  “My goal, my principle I guess as USDA Secretary, is we help to advise and consult as you all deal with the farm bill, is devise programs that let the market determine what people plan.  They shouldn’t be planning for programs.”

And on the USDA staffing issue, Perdue told the subcommittee he wants to combine the local Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Risk Management Agency offices into a one-stop shop.  “I have not had an opportunity to look, drill down on all of the offices where we have vacancies and where we have deficiencies regarding our farm production credit customer service, but that’s a huge goal of ours.  The other huge goal is to get our databases to communicate.”

Perdue told the subcommittee he wants to make the approximately 5-thousand staff reductions through attrition and early retirements where possible.

Perdue appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture Wednesday.



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