The Asian economic crisis could cost U.S. exporters $2 billion in fiscal 1998, according to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
In a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Thursday, Glickman testified that Asia accounts for 40 percent of U.S. agriculture exports and half of the exponential growth of the last decade. The current fiscal year began Oct. 1.
In recent weeks Asian economies and stock markets have been extremely volatile.
“The crisis seems to have stabilized a bit, but you don’t know where things are going,” he said. “It’s going to have some impact.”
If the crisis worsens, Glickman said it could have a “monumental” effect.
Close to 90 percent of Washington and Idaho’s wheat crop is exported, said Thomas Rugg, the Grange’s director of legislative affairs. And about 80 percent of that exported wheat goes to Asia, according to the Washington Wheat Commission.
“You can’t just say it’s someone else’s problem,” Rugg said.
But Rep. George Nethercutt was willing to say the crisis is mostly someone else’s problem and would have little effect on Washington and Idaho. “We are way down on the list” of affected regions, he said.
Glickman also complained to the committee that the Agriculture Department’s research budget has not grown in the last several years.
“It can’t go on forever like this,” he said. “What we have got to figure out is how to articulate the benefits of agriculture research so it is understood by the public.”
Nethercutt questioned Glickman on the cutting of $1.4 million in federal research funding for the Agriculture Research Service facility in Prosser, Wash. Current research at the facility includes producing potatoes with enhanced natural immunity to disease and insects.
“I’ve been impressed with your emphasis on research and the importance of it for the benefit of agriculture,” Nethercutt told Glickman. “I was frustrated to see that Prosser came out again.”
He said he blamed the White House, not Glickman, for the cuts and said they would have a “chilling effect” on private contributions and researcher morale.
“I think this is worth looking at really carefully,” Nethercutt said. “I am going to fight for this one.”
Glickman said the administration has proposed four labs and work stations to be closed around the nation, including the one at Prosser. He said the federal work at Prosser would be transferred to Pullman and Corvallis, Ore.
“It was based on a full review of all facilities and that’s the best I can tell you right now,” Glickman said.
Art Linton, assistant dean and superintendent at Prosser, said the Prosser facility would not wither away and close without federal funding. Out of 30 scientists at the facility, only eight are federal employees, he said.
The budget cuts would have a detrimental effect on the variety of expertise and projects conducted at the facility, he said.
The Prosser cutback would negatively affect projects Glickman is trying to increase, such as environmental and food safety issues, Linton said. “It’s very shortsighted.”
During a Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee meeting with Glickman on Tuesday, Washington Sen. Slade Gorton also criticized the proposed Prosser cutback, saying the department has forgotten about agriculture and is sending a hostile message by spending research money on new spending programs.