North Dakota Ag Commissioner responds to USDA budget cuts
By COLE BENZ | Record Editor
President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget was released last week, and it includes major cuts to the United States Department of Agriculture.
According to the budget, titled ‘America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,’ the USDA is facing a $4.7 billion reduction from the 2017 budget, a 21 percent decrease.
“I have a few concerns,” said North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. “Agriculture has given more than our fair share. There’s just some areas that I don’t believe need to be cut any deeper.”
Much of the budget cuts across the board are proposed to be redirected to the defense budget, something Goehring supports, but not at the expense of the USDA.
Among the cuts, the one most likely to be felt first and most significant by this area is the cuts to the Water and Wastewater loan and grant program, which the budget says is duplicative. It also says that “rural communities can be served by private sector financing or other Federal investments, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s State Revolving Funds.”
This program is primarily what helps communities improve their water infrastructure system, like the rehab project in New England.
The problem, according to Goehring, is that the loan and grant program usually is not the only entity used to collect funds for these projects, and that it can be leveraged between other organizations and grant programs to help. Meaning, if the USDA will award a grant with the provision that an entity match the funds, other departments and support systems like the Department of Public Health and the Safe Drinking Water plan, will also provide funds.
“It’s a group effort, and you’ll find at times where we’ll look at a project that is getting money from Rural Development, [or] they’re getting money from the state revolving fund…There’s a lot of components and [if] you start messing with those, you really change what’s going to happen…Those are essential in some of our communities,” Goehring said. “I just get frustrated because these are dollars that are generally leveraged heavily in our communities.”
He also said that the Federal programs generally have longer terms, with lower interest rates, which helps small communities pay back loans with out creating such a heavy burden.
Another cut that could have an indirect effect on producers is the elimination of the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program because. The budget says that the program “lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity.”
But Goehring said these food aide programs do more than just provide food to third world, or struggling countries, it also gets the foot in the door for other commodities.
“It just helps, again [to] leverage that program for more trade opportunities,” he said. “It’s amazing how well it works.”
Goehring said that a decade ago the United States was exporting to 63 countries. Today that number has risen to 84, an increase of 21 more countries that desire commodities from U.S. ag producers. Goehring added that North Dakota produces 53 different commodities, and that they need a market to sell their crops.
Though the budget proposes about $350 million for agriculture research, Goehring said that part of the budget has been cut. What Goehring said is that bureaucrats and politicians don’t always understand how ag research works. Ag research does not produce fast results, he said, but it does produce longstanding good results. According to Goehring, 25 years ago twice as much nitrogen was required to produce a bushel of corn than presently required, thanks to research.
Goehring has been in contact with North Dakota’s congressional delegation, but said that the budget is pretty much at President Trump’s discretion, and isn’t expected to be adjusted by large margins. So he thinks the department will have to get creative to fill the holes.
“We’re going to have to find ways to back fill,” Goehring said. “And that means being creative, and ‘how can we best still serve this interest of agriculture in our rural communities.’”