Fort Keough Research Center on chopping block | TSLN.com

Fort Keough Research Center on chopping block

Traci Eatherton
for Tri-State Livestock News

President Trump's proposed 2018 budget was as expected, and in line with his first months in office….not for the weak of heart, especially in the ag business.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials revealed the details of his plan, which includes drastic cuts in spending, as Trump continues to follow through with his campaign promises including reducing the deficit.

"We're going to do the best we can," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. "It's my job to implement that plan."

But many in the ag arena are concerned that this proposed plan cuts a little too deep.

“When one in every four North Dakotans is a farmer, rancher, or works in a farm-related job, it’s clear that slashing crop insurance and other vital programs would harm our entire state. These programs help our farmers and ranchers feed the world and keep rural America strong

—and that’s what I reinforced to the president, calling on him to support strong rural development policies and reject budget cuts that threaten our small towns and rural economies.” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

"President Trump promised he would realign government spending, attempt to eliminate duplication or redundancy, and see that all government agencies are efficiently delivering services to the taxpayers of America. And that's exactly what we are going to do at USDA," Perdue said in a statement.

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While hints of the plan came out a few months ago, the actual recently released proposal (https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/USDA-Budget-Summary-2018.pdf) has major cuts to agricultural research, food aid and small rural community benefits. The budget cuts funding for Agricultural Research services by $360 million, which would close the doors on 17 research centers.

"As is, it would eliminate the research at Fort Keogh," Errol Rice, Montana Stock Growers Association (MSGA) Executive Vice President. "Fort Keogh is one of only a few research centers for beef, pasture and rangeland."

Fort Keogh, the federal Agriculture Research Station at Miles City, has 20 USDA-paid employees and 17 Montana State University Extension Service employees. Cutting Fort Keogh's $4.5 million budget, $3.5 of which is funded by federal dollars, would have a big impact on the state, Rice said.

"It would severely impact extension, and the state of Montana."

In a statement, Senator John Tester pointed out some other concerns with the budget and its possible effects.

"We enjoy an unmatched quality of life here in Montana. That's why I'm so concerned about the President's proposed budget, which would take millions from our National Parks, cut funding for trail maintenance by 84 percent, and gut the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which opens up public access to public lands. This budget takes aim at Montana's outdoor economy and gives more ammunition to the folks who want to sell our public land, lock up our rivers and streams, and make our state a fundamentally different place. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to cut spending and craft a responsible budget that protects our Montana way of life," Tester said.

In a statement released by Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), who serves on the Ag Committee and the Appropriations Committee, Daines said, "I will continue to ensure that these important stations are protected, including the Northern Plains Ag Research Lab in Sidney, the US sheep Experiment Station in Idaho and of course, the Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory."

One of the other big surprises is to the government-subsidized crop insurance program with a $28.5 billion cut—or roughly 36 percent—by capping the premium subsidy and eliminating the harvest price option, along with proposed new restrictions.

"North Dakota is only as strong as our rural communities and the farmers and ranchers who drive rural economies—but this budget would leave them out to dry," said Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). "When one in every four North Dakotans is a farmer, rancher, or works in a farm-related job, it's clear that slashing crop insurance and other vital programs would harm our entire state. These programs help our farmers and ranchers feed the world and keep rural America strong—and that's what I reinforced to the president, calling on him to support strong rural development policies and reject budget cuts that threaten our small towns and rural economies."

Several commodity groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the American Soybean Association (ASA) were quick to voice concerns over the budget plan.

"Proposing to carve more than $4 billion out of the Agriculture Department's budget, the administration's 2018 spending blueprint fails to recognize agriculture's current financial challenges or its historical contribution to deficit reduction," according to American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall.

The proposed budget, according to Ron Moore, ASA president and a soybean farmer from Roseville, Ill, "would gut federal crop insurance, one of the nation's most important farm safety-net programs. It would drastically reshape important voluntary conservation programs and negatively impact consumer confidence in critical meat and poultry inspection," Duvall warned.

"By shredding our farm safety net, slashing critical agricultural research and conservation initiatives, and hobbling our access to foreign markets, this budget is a blueprint for how to make already difficult times in rural America even worse," said Ron Moore, ASA president and a soybean farmer from Roseville, Ill.

The crop insurance program is widely used by soybean farmers, and the harvest price option was selected in 99.4 percent of soybean revenue insurance policies sold in 2016. The White House's proposed budget also would cut nearly $9 billion from Title I commodity supports, including the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, by reducing the adjusted gross income (AGI) eligibility cap from $900,000 to $500,000.

"Thirty six percent is the most extreme proposed cut to crop insurance I've seen in my 40 years on the farm," Moore said. "This is a program that exists to sustain farmers who suffer catastrophic losses. Coupled with the arbitrary caps the budget would impose on premium subsidies, it's clear that this budget was written without input from farmers who would be severely affected."

The budget also poses an existential threat to export promotion and foreign food assistance programs according to ASA. It eliminates funding for the expansion of foreign markets with the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development program (FMD). MAP and FMD leverage matching funds from industry to establish and grow markets for U.S. agricultural products abroad, and ASA recently requested that funding for them be doubled in the coming farm bill. The budget would also zero out the McGovern Dole Food for Education Program, as well as the Food for Peace program (P.L. 480).

The budget would cut nearly $6 billion from conservation programs, including the elimination of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which is USDA's largest conservation program with more than 70 million acres enrolled, and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

A positive note in the budget was progress on regulatory reform and infrastructure investment.

"We are encouraged by the promise of reducing burdensome regulations and permitting processes, as well as the recognition of the need for infrastructure investments, including inland waterways and ports," Moore said.

The budget also cuts the SNAP program by $4.6 billion in 2018, increasing it to more than $20 billion annually by 2022.

Following the release of the proposal, House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) issued a joint statement.

"We support the Trump administration's goal of achieving three percent economic growth for our nation. USDA's latest estimates find agriculture, food, and related industries contribute $992 billion to our economy. As we debate the budget and the next Farm Bill, we will fight to ensure farmers have a strong safety net so this key segment of our economy can weather current hard times and continue to provide all Americans with safe, affordable food. Also, as a part of Farm Bill discussions, we need to take a look at our nutrition assistance programs to ensure that they are helping the most vulnerable in our society."

Democrats on Capitol Hill took an even stronger stance, calling it harsh and short sighted. In a letter snet to the President, signed by 30 Senators, including Heitkamp, Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the Senators voiced concerns over the elimination of the USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development and other rural cuts.

"Unfortunately, the fiscal year 2018 budget proposes drastic cuts to USDA Rural Development that undermine its ability to serve rural America. Although we are deeply concerned with many other aspects of the USDA budget, the focus of this letter is limited to USDA's rural development mission. These reductions would undermine the ability of local communities to support rural home ownership; provide clean drinking and waste water systems; and promote access to critical services such as rural hospitals, police, and firefighters. If enacted, these cuts would have a damaging impact on rural communities throughout the country," the group wrote.

"For example, zeroing out the USDA funding for water and wastewater infrastructure projects leaves small communities without access to the federal funds needed to address the $2.5 billion backlog for clean and reliable drinking water systems, sanitary sewage waste disposal, and emergency water assistance. Eliminating USDA's small business programs leaves businesses with less access to capital, educational opportunities, entrepreneurial training, and technical support. These programs have been credited with saving almost 800,000 jobs and have helped finance more than 107,000 businesses since 2009. And finally, the budget proposal jeopardizes critical rural broadband health service grants that provide communities with additional tools to help provide access to education and rural health care, including battling the opioid epidemic. Simply put, cuts to these programs hinder the ability of rural America to see economic growth and development."

It is important to note that this is just a proposal at this point, according to Jess Peterson, with the United States Cattlemen's Association.

"Congress will be the final decider on where money is spent and USCA will once again be very involved in that process," Peterson said.

At this point, this is just a proposal and Congress has the final say, Rice pointed out.

"No Presidential budget has ended up in its original form. But it is good to make people aware of the proposal," Rice said. "Everyone agrees, we have to be efficient in Government."

But Rice doesn't think cutting research is the way to efficiency.

"We are going to roll up our sleeves and do whatever we can to keep the research programs in Montana," he added.

"Having been the governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2011 – not during the best economic times – we did what it took to get the job done, just like the people involved in every aspect of American agriculture do every single day. While the President's budget fully funds nutrition programs, wildland fire suppression and food safety, and includes several new initiatives and increases for Rural Development, whatever form the final budget takes, it is my job as Secretary of Agriculture to manage and implement that plan, while still fulfilling the core mission of USDA," Perdue said.

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