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Ohio corn, wheat and soybean farmers urge Congress to fully fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

• May 25, 2017 at 8:00 AM

The Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association (OCWGA) and the Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) denounced the elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), as proposed by the 2018 budget released this week by the Trump Administration.

Ohio’s corn, soy and wheat farmers have been strong supporters of the initiative. Since 2009 it has provided approximately $300 million annually in water quality improvement efforts and generated more than $2 billion for previously unfunded restoration work over the past eight years. These investments help not only agriculture, but other stakeholders that need support to improve water quality.

“The Great Lakes are the source of nourishment, fishing and recreation for millions of Americans,” OCWGA President Jed Bower said. “If Congress enacts the administration’s budget as proposed, Western Lake Erie would be harmed by the elimination of the initiative.”

“Failing to fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would come at a high cost to Ohioans,” OSA President Todd Hesterman said. “We stand with Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, Rep. Dave Joyce, and all members of Ohio’s congressional delegation who have led the charge to fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.”

The Trump Administration proposed severe cuts to Great Lakes funding for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year budget. However, led by U.S. Sens. Portman (R-Ohio) and Brown (D-Ohio), Congress voted to keep programs at their current funding level of $300 million.

Brown blasted Trump’s budget for eliminating the GLRI, a highly successful program that jumpstarted efforts to protect, maintain and restore the integrity of the Great Lakes.

“As a kid, I can remember how polluted Lake Erie was,” Brown said. “While we have made huge strides in cleaning it up, there is still more to do,” said Brown. “Taking a blow torch to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative could cost Ohio jobs that rely on the Lake, and jeopardize public health by putting our drinking water at risk. Those of us along the Great Lakes will not stand for a budget that eliminates the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.”

The budget also eliminates the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant Program, which funds Ohio State Stone Lab on Lake Erie. Located near Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, Stone Lab plays a critical role in monitoring and protecting Lake Erie.

Brown spoke out against the president’s efforts to eliminated GLRI. In the government funding measure, Brown and Portman helped ensure that the measure included $300 million for GLRI for the remainder of the fiscal year, battling back reported attempts to cut the GLRI by $50 million this fiscal year. Brown spoke to Lake Erie business owners earlier this month to discuss the importance of protecting the Great Lakes.

Last Congress, Brown cosponsored the Great Lakes Ecological and Economic Protection Act of 2015 (GLEEPA) – a bill would reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and codify the program into statute. In December, Brown successfully fought to include authorization for GLRI in the Senate water bill.

Trump’s budget is for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins Oct. 1.

According to Mitch Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, the budget eliminates 66 federal agencies or programs — something that would save $26.7 billion this year and potentially balance the budget in 10 years.

However, the $4.1 trillion budget spends about the same as last year, including $639 billion on defense, a $52 billion increase. The blueprint also predicts the nation’s economy will grow by 3 percent a year, a sharp increase from the average of the Obama administration of less than 2 percent.

Among the programs this budget cuts: Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), HOME Investment Partnerships Program, National Wildlife Refuge Fund, Energy Star and Voluntary Climate Programs, Green Climate Fund and Global Climate Change Initiative.

“President Trump’s proposed budget is a mixed bag for budget hawks,” said Isaac Orr, research fellow for energy and environment policy for The Heartland Institute. “The president should be applauded for ending the wealth transfer from the middle-income citizens of the United States to wealthy dictators in developing nations in the name of the Green Climate Fund. However, his decision to increase military spending, and thus this budget’s failure to actually reduce overall government spending, is disappointing, especially if Trump is serious about enacting ambitious tax reform.”

The American Soybean Association (ASA) also signaled strong opposition to Trump’s proposed cuts.

“By shredding our farm safety net, slashing critical agricultural research and conservation initiatives, and hobbling our access to foreign markets, this budget is a blueprint for how to make already difficult times in rural America even worse,” said Ron Moore, ASA president and a soybean farmer from Roseville, Ill.

The budget would cut the federal crop insurance program by $28.5 billion — or roughly 36 percent — by capping the premium subsidy and eliminating the harvest price option. The crop insurance program is widely used by soybean farmers, and the harvest price option was selected in 99.4 percent of soybean revenue insurance policies sold in 2016. The White House’s proposed budget also would cut nearly $9 billion from Title I commodity supports, including the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, by reducing the adjusted gross income (AGI) eligibility cap from $900,000 to $500,000.

“Thirty six percent is the most extreme proposed cut to crop insurance I’ve seen in my 40 years on the farm,” Moore said. “This is a program that exists to sustain farmers who suffer catastrophic losses. Coupled with the arbitrary caps the budget would impose on premium subsidies, it’s clear that this budget was written without input from farmers who would be severely affected.”

The budget also poses an existential threat to export promotion and foreign food assistance programs. It eliminates funding for the two hallmark USDA programs for the expansion of foreign markets: the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development program (FMD). MAP and FMD leverage matching funds from industry to establish and grow markets for U.S. agricultural products abroad, and ASA recently requested that funding for them be doubled in the coming farm bill. The budget would also zero out the McGovern Dole Food for Education Program, as well as the Food for Peace program (P.L. 480), both of which provide funding for the food security programs that ASA undertakes in the developing world through its World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) program.

“Elimination of MAP and FMD completely ignores the global nature of our industry,” Moore said. “Those programs are key to the work that soybeans and so many other crops conduct overseas to boost trade and trigger a multiplier effect that creates jobs and increased economic activity well beyond agriculture.”

The budget would cut nearly $6 billion from conservation programs, including the elimination of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which is USDA’s largest conservation program with more than 70 million acres enrolled, and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

“Beyond our concern that these programs were already cut by more than $6 billion just three years ago as part of the 2014 Farm Bill, their elimination will significantly hamper on-farm progress toward healthier water, soil and air,” Moore said.

A positive note in the budget welcomed by Moore was progress on regulatory reform and infrastructure investment. “We are encouraged by the promise of reducing burdensome regulations and permitting processes, as well as the recognition of the need for infrastructure investments, including inland waterways and ports,” he said.

“This exercise is not a new one,” Moore added. “We’re aware that Congress—not the president—passes the budget, and agriculture has rebuffed attacks on farm and food programs for years. The danger is that the extreme and ill-informed cuts in this document will embolden those in Congress who lack any understanding of how these programs combine to protect the food and farm supply chain for all Americans.”

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