(Rewrites throughout, adds House Ag Committee Chairman comment,
adds Wisconsin Congressman comment)
By Karl Plume and P.J. Huffstutter
CHICAGO, March 16 Agriculture leaders including
lawmakers from President Donald Trump's Republican Party on
Thursday criticized his planned 21 percent cut to discretionary
spending at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), saying it
could take a toll on the rural communities that helped elect him
Trump has proposed slashing the USDA's discretionary budget
by $4.7 billion to $17.9 billion by halting funding for rural
clean water initiatives and rural business services, reducing
some USDA statistical services and cutting county-level staff.
The president has already vowed to alter trade deals that
have largely boosted farm incomes and targeted health care
policies that have particularly benefited the rural poor.
"America's farmers and ranchers are struggling, and we need
to be extremely careful not to exacerbate these conditions,"
said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway. Farm
incomes are down 50 percent from four years ago, he added.
Opposition is already building in Congress.
"I strongly oppose the Trump administration's proposed
budget cuts to programs that are critical to farmers, ranchers
and families in small towns across America," Debbie Stabenow,
ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the country's
largest organization representing farmers, said county-level
USDA staffing cuts and reduced statistical services could hurt
"A lot of farmers and growers rely on USDA's statistical
capabilities to make a lot of marketing and risk management
decisions and planting decisions," said John Newton, AFBF
director of market intelligence.
The proposal did not give details of which services could be
Trump's blueprint aims to save $498 million by eliminating a
program that helps fund clean water and sewer systems in small
The budget proposal would also eliminate a food aid program,
which had $182 million in funding earmarked for fiscal 2017. Its
planned $6.2 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition
Program for Women, Infants and Children is about $150 million
less than fiscal 2016. Under former President Barack Obama, the
program was reduced by $273 million between fiscal 2015 and
The plans for USDA spending were part of Trump's budget
blueprint, a broad outline of spending proposals for the fiscal
It does not cover "mandatory" spending established by law,
like farm subsidies, only "discretionary" programs where
lawmakers can adjust spending.
The White House has said it plans to release a traditional
full budget in mid-May.
The USDA oversees agriculture, rural communities and
nutritional programs, including funding for school lunches. The
agency also publishes closely watched global farming production
(Additional reporting by Jo Winterbottom in Chicago; Editing by
Lisa Shumaker and David Gregorio)