Our View: The Short Straw for Farmers Once Again

May 24, 2017

It’s called “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” but if the Trump administration’s first major budget plan became law, it most assuredly would harm one of our nation’s greatest assets: her farmers, ranchers, and agricultural production.

In the midst of one of the worst farm economies in recent history with a 50 percent drop in net farm income, the administration is advocating for policy that would gut the farm safety net and decimate the risk management tools that help farmers and ranchers overcome challenges beyond their control.

Crop insurance – one of the key pillars of the farm safety net and popular with both farmers and policymakers alike because everyone shares in its cost and its benefits – would take a 36 percent hit. Proposed cuts to conservation, rural development, and trade promotion would also hammer rural economies.

We have noted this fact many times, but it is worth mentioning again: the farm safety net makes up only a quarter of one percent of all federal spending.

Put another way, based on 2017 spending levels, if we eliminated the entire farm safety net, it would take us 1,700 years to pay off the federal debt. That’s assuming that we have the fiscal discipline to address the real drivers of the debt and eliminate annual deficits.

Put another way, we spend 38 times more on interest payments on the federal debt than we do on the entire farm safety net and 66 times more than we do on federal crop insurance.

No doubt, budgets entail difficult decisions. And, time and again, farmers and ranchers have answered the call for deficit reduction and doing more with less. The 2014 Farm Bill shaved agricultural spending by $23 billion at the time of passage. It is now slated to save taxpayers more than $100 billion, which is incredible given what our producers are facing with depressed prices, weak exports, and the predatory trade practices of some foreign countries. All the while, consumers continue to go about their business enjoying the highest quality, lowest cost food in the world.

Our investment in agriculture is quite modest. The return is a robust and affordable food supply that is secure and grown right here at home. Defense is a priority for this administration, but it is shortsighted to beef up our military might while diminishing the ability to feed our own citizens.

To that point, it was only two months ago that President Trump was praising the work of our farmers and ranchers for National Ag Day. In a special proclamation, he encouraged all Americans to recognize “the preeminent role that agriculture plays” in our daily lives and the national economy, and to express “deep appreciation” for the folks who feed and clothe us.

It is now clear that these words of deep appreciation were, in this case, a foil for deep cuts to farm policy. It adds insult to injury as the old saying goes. Farmers aren’t looking for praise; they’re looking for a fair shake. Sadly, in the first round of the Washington budget game, they have come up short on both.