February 1, 2010
By Aimee Witteman
Today, President Obama unveiled his $3.8 trillion budget for fiscal year 2011. The big fat volumes with all of the program line items for each department of government were published online at the U.S. Government Printing Office this morning.
This post summarizes just a few of the proposed losses and gains for sustainable agriculture. Additional blog commentaries on priority sustainable agriculture issues, including more details about what the President’s budget means for conservation and bioenergy, research, organic, child nutrition, beginning farmers, credit, regional food systems and rural development, will be posted here by NSAC staff over the next few days.
For a quick snapshot of how NSAC’s sustainable agriculture priorities fared, check out our updated appropriations chart.
How Sustainable Agriculture Fared
In general, the President’s budget is a mixed bag for sustainable agriculture. The following are a few of the highlights and lowlights.
Conservation: We are extremely disappointed that President Obama—who campaigned on the promise to increase support for conservation on private agricultural land—decided to cut $500 million in the short term and over $1 billion long term from farm conservation programs.
In particular, the President’s budget includes a $70 million (and $700 million over ten years) cut to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). We’re sorely disappointed by the Administration’s short-sighted decision to make cuts to this popular, important program that supports farmers’ livelihoods on the land while also protecting and enhancing soil, water, and carbon sequestration—ultimately making agriculture more resilient in the face of a changing climate.
Sustainable Ag Research: In more hopeful news, the President includes a 56% increase in funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) competitive grants program, a sure sign of investment in the future of sustainable agriculture systems. This is the biggest increase in the 22-year history of the program and long overdue. SARE has won myriads of awards over the years for its farmer-centered research that has produced real results that help farmers get started and be more profitable by growing and marketing crops and livestock sustainably.
Regional Food Systems and Rural Economic Development: Two new proposals in the President’s budget signal a continued commitment to rural economic wealth creation through regional food system development. Details are still limited, but NSAC applauds the Administration’s decision to set aside 5 percent of a wide range of rural development, marketing, and conservation programs for strategic regional planning that includes a redevelopment of local and regional food and agricultural systems. We also welcome a proposed $35 million for a Healthy Food Financing Initiative that would provide loans for new grocery stories in urban and rural food deserts, though hope it will be firmly linked with regional food system and rural development objectives in addition to food access.
One proposal we expected to see but have not is White House support for a well-funded Farm to School program. The Administration has proposed a $1 billion a year increase in the school feeding programs, but for now, we will have to await USDA Secretary Vilsack’s speech next Monday to learn more about the details of their proposal.
Congress Cuts the Checks – Make Your Voice Heard!
The annual announcement of the President’s budget draws a line in the sand and creates expectations, but ultimately Congress will make the final spending decisions. If you want to brush up on your federal budget 101, here’s a link to a budget process interactive. Negotiations will begin soon and continue through the summer and into the fall before a final vote.
Congress has tough decisions to make given the enormous budget deficit. We will be calling on you as sustainable agriculture advocates to contact members of the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees to urge them to make sure they support a sustainable agriculture agenda that includes full funding for all conservation, regional food system, organic, sustainable agriculture research programs.
These programs are more than just dollars and cents, they make a real difference on the ground—for the environment, farmers, and rural communities.
Thank you for your solidarity and support for sustainable agriculture!