News From the Farm | June 19, 2017

Over the coming months, federal legislators will be working on a budget for fiscal year 2018 as well as a rework of the Farm Bill (which establishes food and agriculture programs for several years).  Both of these efforts could have big impacts on the health of rural communities, the ability of poor families to afford food, and the level of agricultural research investments around the country.

The budget request from the administration proposes deep cuts ($230 billion, or 21%) to rural community and food assistance programs. Some of the proposed cuts of particular concern would gut the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and require severe funding reductions for programs that provide loans to family farmers and ranchers.  Several programs were zeroed out in the President’s proposal: value-added producer grants, appropriate technology transfer for rural areas, and rural cooperative development grants, among others. Conservation and stewardship programs that have built partnerships between the federal government, farmers, ranchers and community food advocates were also slated for elimination. The proposed budget would reduce funding for the Agricultural Research Service by $360 million (26%), possibly requiring the shuttering of 17 research centers.

Of particular concern are proposed cuts of $193 billion for FY2018, out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (‘food stamps’). In a statement about the budget, the conservative American Farm Bureau Federation said that “this budget fails agriculture and rural America.”  But the impact of the cuts that concerned the Farm Bureau were dwarfed by proposed restrictions on programs that help the poor buy food.

These proposals are not quite a month old. On June 15th, a bipartisan panel convened in Washington to focus on agricultural research and extension programs. A recurring theme of the hearing was that the U.S. is falling behind other countries in agricultural research capacity.  Several Committee members and witnesses highlighted the need for research to support climate-related difficulties on farms in various regions of the country.

As the 6/15 panel illustrates, the budget proposal is a ways from going live.  There will be future opportunities for input and discussion.  If you are interested in supporting sustainable food and agriculture priorities, consider donating to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).  Several community groups in California are active members of NSAC, ensuring that the California perspective is well represented.

—Judith Redmond