Because your work and your success might be impacted by the federal budget, we asked Anna Johnson of the Center for Rural Affairs to share this information about the President’s proposed 2019 budget.
The president’s fiscal year 2019 budget was released on February 12, 2018. This is an annual event, where the president formally requests funding for government programs from Congress. Since government programs live and die by their funding, this is the major annual opportunity for the president to set comprehensive positions and priorities for the government’s work.
This latest budget includes many proposals that would be detrimental to rural America. While Congress has the final say on how to fund or not to fund, the president’s budget starts those negotiations for the next fiscal year.
We are concerned rural America has been dealt a very poor hand by this budget. Below, we unpack several of the most troublesome proposals.
Once again, the president has proposed to eliminate many of the programs under Rural Development, including the entire Rural Business-Cooperative Service, the Water and Waste Disposal Grant program for rural areas, and Single Family Direct Home Loans. Also included are the Value-Added Producer Grant Program and the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program. In a time when rural businesses often struggle and rural housing stocks are aging, this shows short-sighted thinking for the future of rural America.
Along with the budget, the president also released a $200 billion infrastructure proposal, including a $50 billion proposal with Formula Grants for rural areas supporting rural infrastructure. This funding structure implies that states will need to chip in to these projects. We are concerned about this difficult extra expense that is hard to justify during a time of low commodity prices.
Conservation Severely Threatened
The president’s budget proposes eliminating the nation’s largest working lands conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). This program provides an important support for our farmers to enact soil and water conservation practices on their land, which is particularly valuable during a time of low commodity prices. CSP is a voluntary working lands program. “Voluntary” means farmers can opt in. “Working lands” means that, unlike with its older cousin the Conservation Reserve Program, farmers enrolled in CSP can continue to produce on their land. Both of these traits lend to CSP’s appeal to farmers.
CSP is also comprehensive. In enrolling, farmers have the valuable opportunity to step back and work out how to increase conservation on their whole operation – and then, work with a government conservation professional to figure out how to make that happen. Once enrolled in a five-year contract, farmers adopt a suite of conservation practices tailored to fit both their farm and their previous experience with conservation. These practices range from planting cover crops to rotational grazing of livestock to adopting precision pesticide application.
In this way, CSP offers concrete benefits to farmers: the support and information needed to enhance and expand conservation on their land.
At the Center for Rural Affairs, we recently surveyed Midwest farmers who participate in CSP. We received an overwhelming positive response: CSP provides farmers with valuable support, and farmers want it prioritized in the next Farm Bill. Farmers told us:
• “CSP allows me to fully implement no-till programs and coordinate my fertilizer management, as well as improve my pasture and rangeland.
• “CSP helps expand rotational grazing efforts, expand cover crop seeding efforts, and provide a cushion for efforts that might not immediately be successful.”
• “For my farming, (CSP) improved my soil quality, and for ranching, the rotational grazing helped my pasture last longer.”
President Trump also proposed reducing funding for the “Conservation Technical Assistance” account by 24%. This account supports the Natural Resource Conservation Service county conservation offices. We’ve heard from many farmers that their county offices are already struggling with small staff and high workloads. Now, imagine your county conservation office taking a 24 percent hit to its funding. Would it be open four days out of five? Would it lose one of four staff people? Such cuts to these offices should not be made – we remain very concerned of the impact these cuts would have on county offices’ ability to support farmers and ranchers incorporating conservation practices on their land.
Farm Bill Programs Assumed to Expire
Unfortunately, budget rules are also stacked against several programs vital to rural America. These rules state that any program that did not receive $50 million per year in the previous farm bill will expire, unless Congress actively decides to renew it. This is why the proposal shows that several incredibly valuable programs will no longer continue past September, including:
• The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program;
• Outreach and assistance to socially-disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers;
• Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion programs; and
• Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentive Program.
The decision for these programs to continue lies with your representatives in Congress.
The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative are proposed to be zeroed out. However, we are glad to see a proposed increase in funding of $3 million to the National Organic Program to protect against fraudulent imports.
In short, the majority of the proposals in this budget would do a great deal to hurt rural America. Public support for threatened programs is sorely needed because the current farm bill is set to expire in September. We urge lawmakers to preserve and protect CSP; farmers need it now more than ever.
If you have opinions about the budget and the kind of support you think it should provide for rural communities and farmers and ranchers, contact your elected representatives. To learn more about what the Center for Rural Affairs is doing, visit their web site and/or sign up for their newsletter.