The last several months have been brutal for farmers across the United States. Over the spring and summer of 2011, extreme weather has hammered farmers from North Dakota to Texas. In the Midwest, unusually heavy rains delayed crop planting and harvesting; along the Mississippi River, flooding submerged thousands of acres of prime farmland; in Texas and the Southwest, severe droughts withered fields and reduced overall yields.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been doing what it can to aid farmers in these affected regions. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has approved disaster loans across the country, allowing farmers to borrow money, at low interest, to offset costs. In addition, the USDA has allowed some farmers to delay repayments in order to minimize their operation costs during the worst of this weather.
However, Vilsack and other agriculture officials have hinted that further direct federal aid is most likely not coming. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the federal government responded to weather disasters with roughly $30 billion spent to aid struggling farmers. This extra spending likely saved countless farms across the United States.
This most recent weather, however, comes in the midst of austerity talks in Congress. Facing an expanding federal budget deficit, Congress and the President have opted to slash spending in an effort to reduce deficits. Earlier this month, in an agreement to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, Congress and President Obama agreed to slash $2 trillion from the budget over the next ten years.
Given the size of the budget cuts and the fact that agriculture has absorbed a significant amount of budget cuts in the past, it is likely that USDA funding will sharply decline over the next several years, leaving U.S. farmers in the lurch.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer