The number of small farms, and younger farmers, has been on the rise in Maine. But that growth could stall if two proposed changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture go through.

The most recent change came with President Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal. This includes a 7 percent cut to the USDA’s Research, Education and Economics mission area.

This comes on top of a proposal late last year to reorganize two areas of the USDA. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue plans to move the Economic Research Service to the Office of the Secretary, a political branch of the Agriculture Department.

Additionally, he wants to move the ERS and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture out of Washington, D.C., before 2020.

These two offices are key research facilities and have advanced scientific practices that benefit all 50 states. They’ve also contributed to food safety and nutrition, rural job markets and sustainable farming practices.

The suggested move literally distances scientists from policymakers. These changes also threaten to undermine the contributions of these offices.

This could have a disproportionate impact on Maine, where the number of farmers under 35 grew 39 percent between 2007 and 2012. This is a huge jump compared to the national increase of 1.5 percent for young farmers. And in those same years, the amount of land used in Maine for farming increased 8 percent.

Clearly, farming is on the rise here, and if anything farmers need more support, not less.

I urge Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Maine U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden to block the proposed USDA move and budget cut. We need their support to keep objective agricultural research and investment for those of us in Maine, as well as the rest of the country.

Erica L. Bartlett


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