Rural America and farm sector to take a hit with Trump's budget plan


Jeff Daniels, CNBC   

Mar 16, 2017


Rural America and the farming region where President Donald Trump found some of his strongest support would take a big hit under the White House's fiscal 2018 budget blueprint.


Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were critical of the plan's cuts to rural and farm programs.


In particular, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would see a whopping 21 percent cut in discretionary spending, including reduced funding for water programs, statistical areas and staffing of its local Farm Service Agency offices around the country. There would be cutbacks in discretionary activities in rural development and rural business too.


Trump's election showed he had strong support in the nation's heartland and key farming regions. Rural areas facing economic hardship due to lower crop prices and weaker farmer incomes turned out in big numbers for Trump.


"Our members across the country know that we have to balance the budget," said John Newton, director of market intelligence for the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest farm organization. But the trade organization still opposes cuts to agricultural programs.


According to the so-called skinny budget, Trump requests $17.9 billion in discretionary spending, or a $4.7 billion decrease from the annualized continuing resolution level of government funding.


House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson of Minnesota said the cuts in USDA are bad for the heartland. "It demonstrates a lack of understanding of farm programs and their impact on rural America," he said.


Added Peterson, "Cuts to the water and wastewater loan program are wrongly portrayed as duplicative when they are the only ways for small rural communities to update their waste systems. County offices are already understaffed and further cuts would mean private organizations would be tasked with helping farmers navigate farm programs. Again, it's a general lack of understanding of what really takes place in rural America."


USDA is still operating with an acting deputy running the department. Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was nominated for the Agriculture secretary post but still hasn't been confirmed.


"I hope once an Agriculture secretary is in place that he will be able to explain the value of these programs and services," said Peterson, who is a member of the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party.


House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) also was critical of the Trump plan to slash USDA's budget...