Agriculture research and education were not spared when the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee passed a FY 2012 budget plan May 23. Tasked with drastically cutting programs under its purview, the subcommittee came up with $17.2 billion in proposed spending for fiscal year 2012.

That amount would be a 14 percent cut over FY 2010 with reductions of $354 million for agricultural research, $99 million for conservation operations through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and $338 million for rural economic development programs.

With the proposed House plan still fresh, during a May 26 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, members repeatedly claimed agriculture was being disproportionately targeted for cuts.

Testifying before the committee, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack did not disagree. To justify spending on agriculture programs, Vilsack pointed to a chart showing “over the last 30 years if you looks at ‘real growth in spending by function (in terms of outlays in constant dollars),’ agriculture … has pretty much flat-lined. I think that’s an important consideration as (Congress) allocates resources and reductions. Agriculture has been a good steward of the fiscal resources provided to it.”

In later testimony, Vilsack said “Candidly, I think the USDA has taken a disproportionate share of the cuts. We’re now at a place where I’ve had a serious conversation with all the undersecretaries … where (I) said ‘Look, we’re looking at potentially a 25 to 30 percent cut in our discretionary budget. That means we have to start thinking about what we can do as well as what we can’t do.’”

One vital area Vilsack would spare from major cuts is agricultural research, which he claimed returns $10 for every dollar spent.

“At a time when we ought to be out innovating, out building and educating … to be competitive, we’re reducing our commitment to research. We should actually be looking at ways in which we can leverage an increase in our commitment to research.

“Research is one of the reasons we have higher productivity. It is producing genomes. It’s producing more information and knowledge that allows us to protect our crops against pests and diseases. It’s developing new technologies and ways to produce crops more effectively and efficiently. It’s something we ought not to shortchange.”