Oklahoma farmers

(Editor’s note: The following story appears courtesy of Gaylord News, a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s proposal to slash the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget by 15 percent left Oklahoma farmers “bewildered” by the administration’s mixed message to the financially-distressed industry it has long supported.

“It’s got us a little bewildered in just what they’re thinking up there,” said Scott Blubaugh, president of American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union.

Trump’s record $4.75 trillion budget request released Monday is expected to be quickly rejected by Congress, but it is significant because it reveals the administration’s funding priorities. Agriculture is not among them, which sends the “wrong signal” to farmers, Blubaugh said.

Trump’s proposed $3.6 billion cut to the USDA could spell trouble for a president whose voting base and political strongholds are rooted in rural communities.

“If they actually did this budget,” Blubaugh said, “I think it would cause all kinds of political trouble for the president.”

The president’s 2020 budget calls for increased spending in veterans affairs and military, including $8.6 billion for a border wall, while advocating for cuts to domestic programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

Proposed cuts to the USDA include eliminating subsidies to higher-income farmers and reducing “overly generous” crop insurance premium subsidies. The president’s budget would reduce the average premium subsidy for crop insurance from 62 to 48 percent and limit commodity, conservation and crop insurance subsidies to producers earning $500,000 or less, according to the text of the proposal.

U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK3), former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he is disappointed by proposed cuts to the Agriculture Department after the president showed his support for the same programs when he signed the 2018 farm bill.

“I will work to make sure Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers have access to a robust safety net,” Lucas said in a statement to Gaylord News.

Blubaugh said he used to think the president understood the “tough, tough economic times” affecting farmers. Across the nation, commodity prices have reached “Depression-era” levels, he said, and most farms are losing money.

‘Farmers, I LOVE YOU’

The Trump administration has routinely espoused a message of support for American farmers, whose votes helped land the businessman in the White House. Last fall, Trump created a $12 billion bailout program to subsidize soybean and other farmers hurt the most by retaliatory tariffs from his international trade war.

He once tweeted: “Farmers, I LOVE YOU!”

But now, Blubaugh said he doesn’t know if the White House understands the situation in rural America.

“Trump won in the rural communities, in the rural areas, in the rural states,” Blubaugh said. “They’ve said the right things about helping the farmers and the trade (…) package that Secretary (Sonny) Perdue came out with last fall to help with Chinese tariffs, that was very helpful. This is just the opposite of that.”

Cuts to the crop insurance program would mean farmers must pay more to insure their crops, thus weakening or entirely eliminating their safety net, which Blubaugh said seems “ridiculous.”

In a hotbed of severe weather like Oklahoma, which goes “from floods to droughts and everything in between,” the crop insurance program is vital for farmers to ensure that they will at least see some revenue in case of catastrophic crop loss, Blubaugh said.

Other Oklahoma representatives did not mention the Agriculture Department cuts in statements responding to the President’s budget, instead lauding Trump’s emphasis on defense and national security.

“I applaud the president’s topline defense budget of $750 billion dollars,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said in a statement.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK4) expressed concern about cuts to the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but said that although he does not support all of the president’s recommendations, he thinks Trump is on the right track.

“The world is a dangerous place, and a strong America is necessary to keep peace and deter aggressive regimes like Russia, China and Iran from pursuing policies that could lead to costly military confrontations,” Cole said in the statement.

Blubaugh’s concern for farmers is one shared by others from national farm organizations and Democrats in Congress.

“There is a very clear disconnect between President Trump’s priorities and the economic realities facing family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities,” Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said in a statement. “It’s time the President’s policy proposals and rhetoric acknowledge the financial pain in farm country.”

House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN7) slammed the White House budget proposal in a statement Monday.

“The president’s budget request is a road map for how to make things worse for farmers, ranchers and those who live in rural communities,” Peterson said. “The good news is this budget is going nowhere in Congress.”