RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—All's not fair in food and farming. As the House of Representatives votes today on the sweeping $38 billion in budget cuts passed late Friday night by the Senate, congressmen will be voting to cut some programs beneficial to organic, rural, and minority farmers, while leaving large agribusinesses and massive commodity subsidies largely untouched.
THE DETAILS: "Overall, the cuts to conservation are pretty massive," says Greg Fogel, policy associate for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Conservation programs, which were cut by $39 million, provide funding to farmers who protect environmentally sensitive areas by doing things like planting crops to prevent erosion or restore wildlife habitats or initiating farming practices that protect groundwater for rural residents.
A few other programs intended to support farmers who want to convert their farms to organics were cut as well. The Organic Transitions Research Program received the 20 percent cuts that were outlined in the very first House budget proposal that aimed to slash $60 billion overall from the budget. The Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which supports farmers who want to convert to organic, was cut $350 million, the largest single cut to the program ever. Also hit: direct and guaranteed conservation loans, which are popular among beginning and minority farmers, and among the tools farmers find helpful in converting from traditional to more sustainable farming methods. "Once again, conservation and rural development and beginning, minority farmers—these are the constituencies that were targeted. More traditional farm supports didn't get cut at all," Fogel says.
WHAT IT MEANS: These budget cuts seem to be sending mixed messages about what the Obama administration believes is the best way to feed—and employ—America. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack "is a big proponent of funding the resurgence of rural America," Fogel says, adding that the secretary has set a goal of creating 100,000 new farmers, all the while cutting funding to programs that help get their new farms up and running. Vilsack even addressed a crowd of organic food advocates recently stating that his agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), "is creating financial assistance for organics because we recognize organic as part of the strategy to rebuild rural America." That, however, came after a spate of approvals of genetically engineered (GE) crops earlier this year, including GE alfalfa, the mere existence of which could threaten the entire future of organic livestock production.