By former USDA Secretary John R. Block
I have a number of subjects to put on the table today.
To open this up, I want to remind everyone just how much our farm and ranch economy is suffering today. Farm income is expected to fall 7% to $60 billion this year. That is less than half what it was just 5 years ago. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, “The state of the rural economy is fragile.” When adjusted for inflation, farm income is forecast to be at the lowest level since 2002.
On top of our income problem, nearly 40 of our states are suffering from drought, and getting worse every week. The south, west and high plains are suffering the most. Our winter wheat crop has already been damaged.
At this time, I have not read very much about drought in the Midwest. However, in talking to farmers in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and other states, they are concerned. The tiles on my farm in Illinois are hardly running. Last year at this time, our subsoil was saturated.
President Trump just released his proposed budget and it could have some influence on the money available for agriculture. Of course, we should remember that Presidents’ budgets are “dead on arrival” – because the Congress decides who gets the money and how much. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (R-TX) had this to say: “We are writing this farm bill under dramatically different circumstances than the last bill four years ago, when prices were high and rural America was thriving.” I believe that the challenges that agriculture faces today will help to protect farm program funding – especially crop insurance.
Another plus for rural America could be President Trump’s infrastructure plan. The President wants to invest $200 billion with states and private companies providing the rest. According to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, “The plan would invest significantly in our rural communities, improving broad band access, internet, water systems, roads, and more.” I have to ask the question – can our Congress come together and pass major infrastructure legislation?
I don’t know. There should be bipartisan support for some kind of a bill. We have already passed legislation to spend a lot of money that we don’t have. Why not just spend some more? I can’t believe I said that – I have always been a “deficit hawk.”
John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill. If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit johnblockreports.com.