“There is obvious real concern about whether USDA can support rural American farmers with the level of cuts to its programs” proposed in the president’s budget, OTA Executive Director Laura Batcha said at the trade association’s annual policy day in Washington May 24.
Much to the chagrin of “folks who are passionate about agriculture,” the budget introduced last week proposes to slash $228 billion in spending on mandatory farm bill programs over the course of the next 10 years, including cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program of more than 25% and billions in farm subsidies, Batcha said.
But particularly worrisome to the organic industry is the administration’s decision to zero-out funds for the Market Access program, which helps support export of agriculture products around the world, Batcha said.
“This is a real concern because the investment for organic is just through the roof for the modest amount of dollars that are invested in the program,” she said.
According to OTA, in 2016 the investment of about $1 million in MAP funds in organic led to “a remarkable return on investment of over 5,000%” or more than $48 million in projected overseas sales opportunities for US organic operations.
This funding also goes mostly to small and medium sized businesses that are entering the market for the first time in terms of exports, and there is “real value there for folks in terms of learning how to access that trade and getting the first business relationships in place,” Batcha said. “The value back is really huge.”
In addition to driving growth through exports, MAP helps “keep prices up all the way back to the farmers” who are relying on exports for their long-term strategy, she said.
The proposed budget also would reduce the National Organic Program by 10%, which Batcha said “in the scheme of things, if you look at the reductions across the board, can be seen as glass half full glass half empty.”
She explained that the good news is the fact the cut wasn’t deeper signals recognition that NOP is important and needs support, but she said she still fears there won’t be enough funding to direct towards compliance and oversight, which “is the bread and butter that that program does for the industry.”
The budget proposal is a no-go
The proposal to “cut everything” as a “sacrifice for a stronger defense” is “just not worth it,” Congressman Jimmy Panetta from California told attendees at OTA’s policy day conference.
As such he said many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are ready to fight for a more balanced approach.
“The good thing is that this is only a proposal and the better thing is I know the people on the Ag Committee, I know the people who work in that White Dome and both republicans and democrats who will join me to fight to protect those programs,” he said.
In particular, he said, he and others will fight for more investments in organic research, including science-based methods to improve soil health, the management of pest and disease and ways to increase productivity.
Already he said legislators are joining together to create the Agriculture Research Caucus to help push these issues forward.
He also noted that he is working with others to push through legislation that will help soften any potential cuts. These include the Cultivating Revitalization by Expanding American Agricultural Trade and Exports Act, and the Organic Agriculture Research Act.