Like many elected officials Senator Tom Coburn is back in his state for the August Recess. While he's home he's been working on his own federal budget proposal that would continue to decapitate any attempt at federal spending. His series of interviews with his local paper advocates, among other things, a drastic cut from a large portion of his state's backbone: Farmers.
In the piece he proposes (emphasis is mine)
In his $9 trillion plan to balance the budget in 10 years, Sen. Tom Coburn would eliminate the old-style programs [meaning farm subsidies] and the checks, called direct payments, to save more than $70 billion. Coburn, R-Muskogee, would also scale back U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs that pay people not to farm on sensitive land, saving almost $50 billion over the next decade.
Here's the thing about conservation programs Coburn might not understand: They were started in the Dust Bowl in effort to help the struggling industry and protect the land. Right now Oklahoma is suffering from an astounding drought that has been going on since October of last year. It's concerning that during this record drought that rivals anything seen during the Dust Bowl that the state's Senator would be talking about cutting the very conservation programs that have kept the dust storms at bay since the 1930's.
The cost share programs and technical assistance offered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service coupled with land retirement under CRP have been the things that have kept the wind and water erosion in check for the last 70 to 80 years. If we stop these efforts, we run the risk that we will repeat the mistakes of the past. Farmers and ranchers will no longer have the technical help they need from agronomist, engineer or hydrologist. Nor will they have the financial assistance necessary to help them cope with the costs of making conservation improvements to their land. Remember, these cost the producer money-- it's a COST-SHARE program with the landowner putting his own dollars on the ground and just matching federal helps. Some of which actually cut production in the short term due the retirement of land or the conversion of crop land to grass that while marginal, would produce a decent crop for a few years until it erodes away.
Without this help and with tight bottom lines, many producers won't be able to keep up with the natural resource challenges on their land. I know some of you will say "its their land, they will take care of it" but remember the reason why agriculture kept moving west in the 1800's was because land would get "burned up" or "farmed out" or "used up" so production had to keep moving west to find more fertile farm ground--these were the farming practices that led to the dust bowl. The market dictates that a farmer get all he can from his land. Without cost-share programs and technical assistance many farmers will not be able to do otherwise. They won't be able to afford to.
These programs also protect the water supply of urban areas near by. Remember, if it is gets in the water upstream, eventually folks down stream will drink it or pay to treat it. The same programs that address soil erosion also help keep nutrients and bacteria out of the water. If a farmer can address non-point run off on his or her land using a program through USDA (and remember, this is a cost share program) it will cost far less for tax payers to build a water treatment plant down stream. It also will be a more permanent fix while the water treatment plant will wear out in a few years.
Bottom line--we all have to do our part to balance the budget. Agriculture generally and conservation in particular will be cut. But it's a bad idea to gut or eliminate the very programs that are holding the tide of dust at bay when we may very well be entering a drought like the ones we saw in the 1930's and 1950's. We need to do our part. We just need to be smart about how we do it and Sen. Coburn doesn't know the first thing about any of it. Perhaps, we should just cut Tom Coburn's salary instead, since he doesn't want to do anything for his state as a leader.