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US Ag Secretary talks cuts

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is in Missouri touting President Obama’s job creation plans, laid out this week in his state of the union address. This comes as the agriculture department faces a shrinking budget.

The USDA calls it the “Blueprint for Stronger Service” – closing 259 offices around the US. Those closures will save the department an estimated $150 million a year, and will include 10 offices in Missouri. Vilsack says the closures won’t have a big impact on farmers, who access loans and information through local offices.

“Naturally, when you have fewer dollars, and fewer workers and more work to do, you’ve gotta figure out ways you can continue that service, but you may have to do it in a slightly different place,” Vilsack said.

The agriculture department is also facing cuts of $23 billion or more in this year’s farm bill. Vilsack says those cuts will bring big changes in the safety net system for farmers.

“I think you’re going to see a change in the system that we have today, which provides payments to farmers whether it’s a good year or bad year, I think you’re clearly going to see a change in that system. Fiscal circumstances are going to dictate it,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack says the safety net will still include subsidized crop insurance. Over the past three years, the USDA has paid out $641 million in insurance claims to Missouri farmers who were victims of natural disasters.