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Northwest Iowa Dairy Outlooks

A local discussion of current science and issues concerning dairying in northwest iowa

 

Southwest Farm Press reporters this week did a great job of outlining how agriculture research and education were
not spared when the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee passed a FY2012 budget plan May 23. Tasked with drastically cutting programs under its purview, the subcommittee came up with $17.2 billion in proposed spending for
fiscal year 2012.

That amount would be a 14 percent cut over FY 2010 with reductions of $354 million for agricultural research, $99 million for conservation operations through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and $338 million for rural economic development programs.

For more, see House subcommittee voting on $2.7 billion in ag spending cuts.

With the proposed House plan still fresh, during a May 26 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, members repeatedly claimed agriculture was being disproportionately targeted for cuts. Testifying before the committee, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack did not disagree. To justify spending on agriculture programs, Vilsack pointed to a chart showing “over the last 30 years if you looks at ‘real growth in spending by function (in terms of outlays in constant dollars),’ agriculture … has pretty much flat-lined. I think that’s an important consideration as (Congress) allocates resources and reductions. Agriculture has been a good steward of the fiscal resources provided to it.”

In later testimony, Vilsack said “Candidly, I think the USDA has taken a disproportionate share of the cuts. We’re now at a place where I’ve had a serious conversation with all the undersecretaries … where (I) said ‘Look, we’re looking at potentially a 25 to 30 percent cut in our discretionary budget. That means we have to start thinking about what we can do as well as what we can’t do.’”

One vital area Vilsack would spare from major cuts is agricultural research, which he claimed returns $10 for every dollar spent.

Among those potentially facing a heavy funding axe are land-grant institutions and their agriculture researchers, educators and programs.

Shortly after the budget plan passed out of the House subcommittee, Delta Farm Press spoke with D.C. Coston, vice-president for Agriculture and University Extension at North Dakota State University. Coston also chairs an Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) committee on the farm bill. Among his comments:

On the House subcommittee plan…

“The House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee reported out (on Monday). The budget for the National Institute of Food and
Agriculture (NIFA
), which funds most of the programs that the land-grants work with, is proposed to have a cut around 16 percent compared to the current fiscal year.

“The way it works, various committees are given allocations of money by House of Representatives leadership. They then divvy it up among the programs they work with. As best I can see, there was no malice (with the proposed cuts) — there are some very strong proponents of agricultural research and education sitting on that appropriations subcommittee. This subcommittee had a 13 percent reduced allocation and they had to find places to reduce funds. Everything under their oversight received significant reductions.

“While we understand the difficult Federal fiscal environment, many state budgets are in as bad, or worse, shape. This has forced substantial reductions in the core research, education, and Extension programs at most Land-grant universities.”

On the consequences of heavy cuts…

“Cuts of this magnitude will unfortunately have the exact opposite effect of the desired outcome. What we do in our programs is find solutions for agricultural productivity, nutrition (including obesity), food safety, and environmental problems that are costing so much in taxpayer dollars to correct.

“Ironically, by cutting our core programs there will be an increase in the long-term demand for taxpayer funding to address those important societal issues. We are a big piece of the solution as we address the causes of the food, feed, fiber, and fuel issues facing American and the world.

“Versus funding the results of those problems, the public and Congress must decide which is more important long term and which path will ultimately provide better results while also saving taxpayer funding. I think the answer is pretty clear.”

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