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Commentary: Keep strong safety net for farmers

By Gary Wertish, president of Minnesota Farmers Union, St. Paul

As commodity prices remain low and rural economies struggle, farmers and rural citizens need a strong safety net to stay afloat until conditions improve.

However, the budget proposals from the White House and the U.S. House of Representatives do not address that need. The House Budget Committee recently released its 2018 budget proposal, which called for a $10 billion cut in programs under the control of the House Agriculture Committee. And the 2018 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, released by the Congressional Budget Office, called for $8.5 billion less in agriculture funding than the 2017 fiscal year enacted level. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to eliminate its undersecretary position for rural development. We are deeply concerned about these changes.

Public funding helps farmers through programs such as crop insurance. Weather is never totally predictable. Minnesota experienced heavy rains in fall 2016 and spring 2017, which directly hit harvest and planting times. Farmers need strong funding not only to cover lost income, but for research on navigating these tough times. Public services such as local soil and water conservation districts and university extension services provide valuable information on soil health, fertilizer management and more. The good news is, according to news reports, the CBO expects the option of re-enrolling in the Agricultural Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to remain viable.

Our members consistently tell us how much they have been helped by rural development programs. It's not just farmers who receive the benefits, and the 2018 Farm Bill will include titles on rural development. Funding cuts of this size will prevent the Farm Bill from serving the people who need it most. For instance, many rural residents are investing in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Tax credits and federal and state assistance make it easier to do this. In a time when climate change is becoming more apparent, incentivizing renewable energy in rural areas is crucial.

Minnesotans were lucky this spring to get a strong agriculture budget from the state legislative session. Our state relies heavily on the agriculture industry for economic health, as does the whole nation. Federal legislators should follow that example as they construct the 2018 Farm Bill. We urge them to listen to real American farmers and rural residents and keep strong safety net funding. Minnesota Farmers Union will continue to fight for the funding farmers deserve.

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