These reductions would be accomplished, in part, by closing 17 ARS laboratories, locations, or worksites. The costs associated with the relocation or separation of 674 employees impacted by the closures, and the disposal of related property is estimated to range from $50 to $70 million.
The budget also eliminates funding for USDA’s Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development program, two programs to help expand foreign markets. The budget would also zero out the McGovern Dole Food for Education Program and the Food for Peace program, both of which provide funding for food security programs.
“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,” says Ron Moore, president of the American Soybean Association.
Groups representing specialty produce, including fruits, vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, nursery plants, and other products, are upset that the proposed USDA budget would eliminate such programs as the Specialty Crop Block Grant program and the Market Access Program. “These programs are investments that return far more value to the economy, job market, and agriculture sector than their costs,” said a statement from the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance. “We will work vigorously with our industry partners to make sure the administration understands the challenges our industry faces so that we may work together to develop policies that help, not hurt, America’s specialty crop producers.”
Even Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue didn’t try to put a happy face on his agency’s budget proposal. “I don’t think there’s any reason to sugar coat this,” he told reporters when the budget was released. “We’re going to do the best we can. It’s my job to implement that plan,” he said. “But I believe the people knew what they were doing when they elected President Trump…I think many believe as I do—I just don’t think it’s moral to continue to kick a $20-trillion debt down to our grandchildren.”
But not all of the budget news at USDA was bad. Discretionary funding for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which oversees the safety of the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products, would receive a 2.8-percent increase of $25 million, from $897 million to $922 million. About half of this increase would be used to fill vacancies in frontline inspectors. Federal support for state and international food safety and inspections and other discretionary programs would be maintained at current levels.
However, starting in 2019, FSIS proposes imposition of a new user fee that would cover “all costs” for domestic inspection, import re-inspection, and “most” of the central operating costs for federal, state, and international inspection programs for meat, poultry, and eggs, the FSIS budget request states.
The Fiscal 2018 budget year officially begins Oct. 1, 2017. However, the federal government has been operating without formally approved budgets for the past several years through a series of continuing resolutions. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have decried the latest White House budget submission, calling it “draconian” and “dead on arrival.”