House FY2012 Appropriations Bill Would Slash Conservation, Rural Development, and Research Programs
May 24th, 2011
On Monday, May 23, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies released a draft of its fiscal year (FY) 2012 agriculture appropriations bill. The Subcommittee will debate, potentially amend, and almost certainly pass the bill on Tuesday during an afternoon markup.
Before the bill can become law, the Senate must develop and pass its own funding bill, those two bills must be reconciled, and the President must sign off on the final package. As such, it is unlikely that all of the cuts proposed by the Subcommittee will make it into the final appropriations legislation in their current form.
Overall, the bill proposes to cut USDA and FDA discretionary programs by 13.4 percent on top of a similar amount in the FY 2011 bill completed last month.
If Congress were to pass the Subcommittee’s FY2012 appropriations bill, mandatory conservation programs – those with direct spending levels mandated by the Farm Bill – would take an enormous cut of over $1 billion. This is on top of the $500 million already cut from these programs in the continuing resolution passed last month. The cuts would be further magnified in the multi-year base funding Congress has to work with for the FY 2012 Farm Bill, making passage of such a bill difficult if not impossible.
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) would be cut $171 million relative to its FY 2012 farm bill-mandated level, which, if it to become law, would require the government to renege on contracts it has already signed with farmers across the country. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) would be cut $350 million. The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) would be cut by 64,200 acres and 96,000 acres, respectively, while the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) would be cut $50 million and $35 million, respectively.
A number of mandatory renewable energy programs – including the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) and Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) would be completely eliminated by the legislation. BCAP would lose $248 million, while REAP would lose $75 million. The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) would also be zeroed out.
In addition to the cuts to mandatory conservation funding, the bill would cut the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) conservation operations budget by nearly $128 million. NRCS uses conservation operations money to provide technical assistance to farmers and ranchers who sign up for NRCS programs. Without it, farmers and ranchers would receive no support as they tried to conserve their land.
Rural Development and Farm Loans
In addition to slashing conservation spending, the appropriations bill targets programs that help rural communities thrive. The bill cuts the Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program to $12.5 million, nearly a quarter of its authorized level and nearly half of what went out the door in 2010. The bill would also completely eliminate the Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), including its farm bill mandatory funding of $3 million.
Fortunately, the bill fully funds direct operating loans at $1.05 billion, as requested in the President’s budget. It funds direct farm ownership loans at $475 million, which is equal to the President’s budget request but 27 percent lower than 2010 levels.
Research, Education, and Extension
One of the most disheartening cuts made in the bill is a $47 million cut to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, relative to the level of funding authorized by the farm bill. The Subcommittee’s bill would fund SARE at $16.3 million, which is $14 million less than the level requested by the President for FY2012 and $3 million less than current levels.
For more than 20 years, SARE has been at the forefront of research and widespread extension of farming systems based on environmentally sound, profitable, and socially sound practices. Since 1990, the SARE program has been authorized to receive $60 million a year — $40 million a year in research and education grants and $20 million a year for extension and training grants. Despite SARE’s widespread popularity, demonstrated efficiency of administration, and capacity to serve both individual farmers and region-wide needs, however, the program has never received more than $19.2 million a year. Funding the program at even half its authorized amount would have allowed SARE to begin its authorized but yet unfunded state matching grant program that would leverage state and private monies and establish state-specific funding pools. Instead, the Subcommittee has chosen to further undermine the program, setting it back years.
Beyond SARE, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) budget for research and education activities overall was cut nearly $100 million on top of the $88 million cut that it took in the FY2011 continuing resolution last month. An additional $70 million on top of the $14 million cut made by the FY2011 bill would be slashed from NIFA extension activities. Fortunately, no additional cut would be made to the Organic Transitions research program, though the program was cut by 20 percent in the FY2011 continuing resolution.
The bill would fund the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (or ATTRA) program at $2 million for FY 2012. While not the $2.8 million funding level the program has maintained for many years, it is $2 million more than the zero dollars the program received in FY 2011 and thus an important step forward.
Finally, the Agriculture Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would be funded at $225 million, which is $100 million less than the President’s budget request, $40 million less than the level included in last month’s spending bill, and an enormous $475 million below the $700 million authorized for the program in FY2012.
In addition to cutting and eliminating critical conservation, credit and rural development, and research programs, the Subcommittee’s FY2012 appropriations bill would prohibit USDA from using any money to implement its Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule on livestock market competition.
For years, a small handful of giant meat packers and processors have been underpaying and unfairly treating farmers and ranchers while USDA sat by in relative silence. In the 2008 Farm Bill, though, Congress directed USDA to clarify and strengthen regulations under the Packers and Stockyards Act and other statutes.
USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration issued the proposed rule that would rein in unfair and deceptive practices by livestock and poultry packers and processors in their dealings with farmers and rancher. The proposed rule would also increase market fairness and transparency and decrease the ability of a few large multinational corporations to manipulate prices paid to farmers and ranchers.
Unfortunately, it seems that the big meat packers and processors influenced members of the Subcommittee to fight against a final rule that would provide basic fairness, including fair markets and prices, to farmers and ranchers. It has been almost three years since enactment of the 2008 Farm Bill and almost one year since the GIPSA proposed rule was issued. Our rural communities have lost thousands of farmers and ranchers who could no longer endure unfair and deceptive practices, the payment of reasonable prices only to a favored few, and the manipulation of livestock and poultry markets. Members of Congress should stand up for the requirements of basic fair dealing provided to farmers and ranchers in the GIPSA proposed rule and should seek to stop this regression as the appropriations process moves forward.
NSAC will track the Bill’s introduction and debate tomorrow, and will post an update on any amendments or changes following the mark up.