The budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for fiscal year 2009 was announced Monday at around $95 billion, a slight increase from the $92 billion for this year. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer says some tough choices had to be made in arriving at this budget, and there will be more changes ahead as there is a proposal to shift discretionary funds to mandatory programs.
"Some programs are reduced and we are proposing some shift in emphasis from grants to loans and from direct loans to loan guarantees," Schafer says. "These shifts permit us to continue to address the priorities of USDA but at a lower cost to the U.S. taxpayer."
The proposed budget for USDA is not based on the 2007 Farm Bill that Congress continues to work on, rather it uses the provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill as its basis and according to Schafer reflects the Administration's proposals for change. American Farm Bureau Farm Policy Specialist Tara Smith says they are concerned about some of the shifts and proposals that were offered in the budget, especially cuts in commodity programs, conservation and research grants.
"The bottom line really is that the budget proposal that they put forward simply isn't in line with the political reality of where Congress is taking the Farm Bill," Smith says.
Schafer did concede that when the Farm Bill is passed by Congress and signed by the President some changes would need to be made in the budget estimates.
"I want to point out that even within the tight overall budget framework there will be additional funds allocated to food safety, nutrition and high priority energy research," Schafer says.
The $62.2 billion for food stamps, nutrition and other feeding programs makes up 63% of the USDA budget, and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner says they will provide a $3 billion contingency fund should actual cost of the food stamp program exceed estimated levels.
Farm subsidies under the current proposal would make up 15% of the budget with conservation getting 11%, research 6%, rural development 3%, and international programs 2%.