Ag Secretary on Budget Cuts

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In an eloquent speech at the Commodity Classic in Florida on Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained how the sequester will affect the USDA budget, the food supply and farmers.

While Vilsack did not give exact percentage of the budget or the dollar value, it will be more than it seems on the surface. Here’s why: The percent cut has to apply to the entire fiscal year budget. Say it is a 6% annualized cut. Because the fiscal year is already more than six months gone, the remaining budget will have to be cut more to the tune of 12%.

Worse, under the rules of the sequester, the secretary has no discretion in where the cut is accomplished – it must be equal across all discretionary spending programs. He listed a $34-$35 million cut to Farm Service Administration funding and estimated about 1,500 farmers will not be able to get credit this year as a result. Foreign Agricultural Service will lose funding equal to about $500 million in trade opportunity funding, opening the door to our competitors.

Natural Resource and Conservation Service cuts will mean 2,600 people won’t get help with their conservation plan this year and 11,000-12,000 who have a plan will not get assistance in implementing it. Research – both at USDA’s Ag Research Service and universities – will lose $60 million in funding. Six hundred thousand women and children will go on a WIC waitlist instead of receiving assistance.

Maybe hitting closest to home for most of our readers is the potential disruption in meat and egg inspections. Vilsack said there is a potential loss of $8 billion that will affect more than 8,000 inspectors and 250,000 meat industry employees. Although he didn’t explain how cutbacks will happen, he said that certain days there will be no federal meat inspections, meaning there will be no meat production. Think about the disruption that will create all along the food chain.

Earlier in the week, USDA officials said they would have to furlough 8,400 meat inspectors for 15 days in order to produce the savings ordered for the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Mandatory spending programs including the Federal Crop Insurance Fund, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the school lunch program, are exempted from the sequester.

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