President Obama's proposed 2013 budget slashes spending at the Agriculture Department by about $700 million, or 3 percent compared to this year’s spending levels, by cutting farm subsidies and closing hundreds of tiny regional offices.
As in previous years, Obama wants to eliminate direct payments to farmers, which accounted for about 44 percent of farm aid in fiscal 2011. Phasing out the payments is part of a plan to save $32 billion in the next decade by also providing disaster assistance to farmers and reducing subsidies to crop insurance companies.
“For the past decade, the agricultural sector has been extremely strong,” Obama’s budget document said, noting that overall farm incomes were projected to jump $21.8 billion in 2011, the second-highest inflation-adjusted value for farm income in 35 years.
Obama’s previous proposals to cut farm subsidies have met fierce opposition from farm state lawmakers.
More federal money for research into human nutrition and obesity reduction, key priorities of first lady Michelle Obama, is included in the budget proposal as part of a plan to boost agriculture and food research by $325 million.
USDA’s operating budget has been slashed by 12 percent, or $3 billion since fiscal 2010. To address the cuts, the department plans to close about 260 regional offices located primarily in smaller rural communities. In some cases, the offices sit empty or have only one or two staffers, or are within 20 miles of a larger office, USDA said.
The consolidation plans affects 46 states and the department’s Washington headquarters and will contribute to about 900 job cuts this year, mostly through attrition.