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Ag chiefs spar on sequester

Farm Bureau criticizes ‘blame game’ of USDA leader


If Congress fails to act, thousands of Hoosier farmers will face reduced direct payments and the public would be at a higher risk of foodborne illnesses because of fewer inspectors, the nation’s top agriculture official said.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke with The Journal Gazette on Wednesday about how federal spending cuts known as sequestration could affect Indiana farmers. He said much uncertainty exists, but the onus is clearly on lawmakers.

“Congress has to focus on its job,” he said in a telephone interview. “The country needs certainty. They need to make the tough decisions that they’ve already asked the department to do.”

Nationwide, about 700,000 federal jobs will be affected in some way, Vilsack said.

Allen County Farm Bureau President Roger Hadley said the sky isn’t falling.

“You have an administration that is playing the blame game and trying to get everybody excited by bringing out these worst-case scenarios,” he said. “Like saying there won’t be enough inspectors. That’s a bunch of B.S.”

Dramatic reductions in agriculture and other industries are months away, he said. Hadley said he isn’t downplaying the massive federal spending cuts that started phasing in Friday, but he said there is enough time on the clock for something to be done.

“Instead of out campaigning, the president should be buckling down in D.C. and trying to get stuff done,” Hadley said. “The administration is trying to get enough people mad to get Congress to do what it wants it to do.”

Vilsack said the impact should not be taken lightly. A nationwide shutdown of meat and poultry plants during a furlough of inspection personnel would result in $10 billion in production losses and more than $400 million in lost wages, he said.

Consumers could face limited supplies and higher prices.

“The public could suffer,” Vilsack said.

The ag chief also noted that the farming industry could lose more than $60 million for agricultural research.