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Sequestration Imperils Agriculture Programs, Vilsack Warns

February 21, 2013
By: Boyce Thompson, Editorial Director google + 
Vilsack stock photo

Unless Congress takes action within the next week to preempt sequestration, USDA might be forced to make big cuts to its budgets that will disrupt service to farmers and consumers. That was the message delivered today by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at his department’s Agricultural Outlook Forum 2013.

When it comes to managing risk in agriculture, Vilsack notes, discussion usually turns to risks such as weather or international economic risks outside the industry’s control. But the biggest threats that face agriculture today are man-made.

The first would be the impending sequestration. If Congress doesn’t enact a deficit-reduction package by March 1 or amend current law, Vilsack will be obligated to make cuts to USDA budgets, including those for food-safety programs.

USDA would be forced by law to reduce every line item in its budget by 5% to 6% on an annual basis. But because the cuts couldn’t be made until the final half of the year, they might have to be larger. 

"It will feel like 10%," Vilsack says.

The cuts could undermine programs such as food safety, which has few budget lines, most involving people. A total of 6,000 food inspectors could be furloughed for several weeks if sequestration occurs, The Hill's Floor Action Blog reports, resulting in millions of dollars in lost wages and some plant closures.

On March 27, if Congress hasn’t passed a budget or a continuing resolution, USDA and other federal agencies will have to stop spending money. That will negatively affect the Department’s ability to promote exports and provide credit to farmers, Vilsack says.

Then there’s the man-made risk of not having a farm bill. The lack of a five-year plan, Vilsack says, creates uncertainty about the safety net for farmers and livestock producers "who are facing potential economic disaster" from continuing drought conditions.

Farm families, Vilsack says, need and deserve the certainty of a farm bill. They face financial risk even as they provide extraordinary national security. "We are a nation that can feed itself," says Vilsack, noting that most nations around the world can’t say that. "Less than 10% of a paycheck in this country goes to food, compared to 15% to 20% in most developed nations."

The lack of a farm bill frustrates the USDA’s ability to settle trade disputes such as the cotton industry’s imbroglio with Brazil over domestic subsidies. Vilsack says that dispute could result in "significant penalties without a farm bill." It also hampers the government’s ability to bring down foreign trade barriers.

That includes dealing with Russia, which has barred the import of U.S. beef over the use of ractopamine, a food additive that helps animals produce lean meat rather than fat. Russia’s decision "is not scientifically based and contrary to international law," Vilsack says, noting that the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) recently declared that U.S. beef and pork products are safe.

Without a farm bill, rural economies may continue to suffer, jeopardizing the nation’s ability to develop a new bio-based economy, Vilsack says.

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COMMENTS (1 Comments)

greener - KS
vilsack is a sorry P O S! If he had anything in his sack he would tell bummer to do find some way to keep the meat inspectors working and to not let gov screw up affect farmer and rancher income but he is another puppet!
9:30 AM Feb 22nd



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