February 15, 2013
The Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing on February 14, 2013 on the varying doomsday scenarios that will play out should Congress fail to prevent the self-imposed sequestration. The hardline cuts are expected to take effect on March 1 and the damage could begin immediately in some cases.
Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack was not present at the hearing but Daniel Werfel, Controller of the Office of Management and Budget, outlined the effects of sequestration on American agriculture. Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture Appropriations highlighted the devastating impact the loss of USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors would have on our nation’s meat, poultry, and egg industries.
In a letter to Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), USDA estimated that up to 2 billion pounds of meat, 2.8 to 3.3 billion pounds of poultry, and over 200 million pounds of egg products would be lost, resulting in a $10 billion industry loss. The Committee did not hear testimony on the impact that sequestration cuts would have on conservation, research, and beginning farmers and ranchers, but that information was outlined in USDA’s letter.
USDA states that the Natural Resource Conservation Service would have to cut $20 million in technical assistance funds and $109 million in financial assistance to farmers. Approximately 11,000 producers and landowners would lose out on funds designed to preserve water quality and quantity, soil, and wildlife habitat.
Should sequestration take place, agricultural research within USDA would take an agency wide hit resulting in the loss of over $60 million, and more than 100 fewer grants awarded for research conducted by both university scientists and private partners. Cuts would severely limit research in areas such as water, nutrient management, and bioenergy production.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency would see a significant loss of personnel, disrupting the delivery of vital services, including the provision and oversight of funding. A $5.4 million reduction in budget authority would lead to 890 fewer direct farm operating loans. More than 660 additional loans would also be eliminated.
The letter makes crystal clear that sequestration will have devastating effects throughout the food system, not just on meat and poultry producers. If allowed to run its course, we will see widespread disruptions to public health, conservation, research, and agricultural production that will be felt for years to come.