Farmers decry Trump plans to cut agriculture subsidies

AP PHOTO In this Thursday photo, Chris Petersen walks past a tractor on his farm, in Clear Lake. Farm groups and some members of Congress from farm states are decrying proposed cuts to crop insurance and other safety net programs for farmers included in President Donald Trump's budget.

DES MOINES — Farm groups and some members of Congress from farm states are decrying proposed cuts to crop insurance and other safety net programs for farmers included in President Trump’s budget.

The proposed cuts come even as farmers are facing their fourth straight year of falling income, and could particularly affect farm states such as Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska that helped Trump win the November election.

“Clearly, this budget fails agriculture and rural America,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said in a statement.

The proposed budget would cap the amount of money the U.S. government provides to help farmers pay insurance premiums and eliminate insurance coverage for lost revenue when crop prices and per-acre yields fall. That would reduce the federal insurance program’s budget by $28 billion over 10 years.

Trump has also proposed reducing subsidies to farmers, cutting those programs by $9 billion by decreasing the maximum income level from $900,000 to $500,000 for a farmer to be eligible. The budget would also cut 5,263 jobs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 5.5 percent reduction in staff.

Farmers and agriculture experts say it is important to support the agriculture sector, which makes up about 11 percent of U.S. employment, or about 21 million jobs, and contributes nearly $1 trillion to the nation’s domestic productivity.

“The strength of the agricultural economy has implications for rural America, but also for the larger U.S. economy,” Robert Johansson, the USDA’s chief economist, told senators last month.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the leading Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, warned that the proposed cuts “would have a disproportionate impact on small towns across our country and leave those communities in crisis.”

But some people say there’s no need for farmers to worry just yet.

“What I’ve been telling farmers is let’s just relax a bit before we panic. It’s going to be hard for Trump to get anything done. That’s become really obvious,” said Brent Gloy, a former Purdue University agriculture economist who now works full-time on his family’s corn, soybean and wheat farm in southwest Nebraska, where Trump had strong support.

Indeed, Republican U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, who owns a farm in Iowa and is a member of the agriculture and budget committees, doesn’t expect the crop insurance cuts to make it through Congress. Grassley considers Trump’s budget a non-starter, much like the budget proposals of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who also suggested farm program cuts that never materialized.

“Most budgets are dead on arrival,” Grassley said during a recent conference call with reporters. “I don’t say that to be negative about any of the three presidents I’ve said it about.”

Farmer Harold Wolle, who lives in a Minnesota county where 55 percent of voters chose Trump, makes the same point and says it’s too early in the process for Trump supporters to be disappointed.

“We’re fortunate that Congress writes the budget, not the executive branch,” said Wolle, who is president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.