July 15, 2010
On Thursday, July 15, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2011 Agricultural Appropriations bill by voice vote. The action on the agriculture bill came after a lengthy partisan debate over the overall discretionary spending levels for the entire government for FY 2011, which concluded with the adoption of Chairman Inouye’s proposed spending allocations.
The agriculture bill proposes to spend $22.838 billion for all discretionary spending (net of a variety of cuts to mandatory programs) for the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and several smaller government agencies. This is nearly $300 million less than the FY 2010 level and $27 million less than what President Obama requested.
After winning support from USDA, the White House and then the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee asked for a $30 million funding level for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. We regret to say that today the Senate Committee adopted a far lower,, $23 million, SARE funding level. Both bills include $15 million for research and education grants and $5 million for extension and outreach grants, but they differ on funding for the SARE state matching grant program, with the House at $10 million and the Senate at only $3 million. NSAC strongly supports the $30 million funding level and will continue to urge the Senate to come up to that level before finishing work on its bill this year.
As with the House Subcommittee-passed bill, the Senate bill moves forward on two Administration initiatives. The USDA portion of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative would receive $30 million under the Senate bill compared to $40 million in the House bill and $50 million requested by USDA. The Senate bill, like the House bill, also approves a somewhat scaled-back version of the new Regional Rural Innovation Initiative, which includes funding for local and regional food system projects. Both bills also provide $2 million for USDA’s Farm to School “tactical teams” to help school districts source more local food.
Whereas the House Subcommittee-passed bill refrains from cutting any farm bill mandatory conservation programs other than the traditional $270 million cut from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and $165 million cut from the Small Watersheds program, the Senate bill includes some but not all of the additional conservation cuts proposed by President Obama. The Senate Committee-passed bill adopts a $75 million cut to the Wetlands Reserve Program, a $14 million cut to the Grasslands Reserve Program, a $15 million cut to the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, and a $5 million cut to the conservation portion of the Agricultural Management Assistance Program. The Administration had also requested cuts to the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, but those cuts were rejected by the Senate Committee. NSAC appreciates the sparing of those two programs, but continues to oppose the additional raids on farm bill conservation spending, and will continue to urge the Senate to find alternative offsets before bringing their bill to conclusion later this year.
A few other bill highlights follow:
Research — In addition to the SARE news above, the Senate Committee bill includes $5 million for Organic Transitions research, the same level as the House bill and $5 million more than the zero budget requested by the President. For the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the Senate bill provides $310 million, compared to $312 million in the House bill, $262 million in the current year, and the $429 million Obama requested level.
Rural Development — Like the House bill, the Senate bill would level funding for the Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program at $20.4 million. The total Senate funding level for Rural Business and Industry Guaranteed Loans would provide $49.7 million in loan guarantees for local and regional food enterprises versus $47.1 million in the House bill (the same as the FY 2010 level). The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) fares much better in the Senate bill than the House bill. The House bill would allow the $4 million in mandatory farm bill money to move forward, but provides no additional discretionary funds above that level, whereas the Senate bill provides an additional $4.35 million, for a total of $8.35 million. The President had requested an additional $7.7 million. Rural Coop Development Grants would get a modest increase to $12.4 million in the Senate bill. The ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service program would receive $2.8 million in both bills, same as the current funding level.
Credit — With additional emergency funding for farm loans still pending in the supplemental appropriations bill slowly making its way through Congress, the Senate regular appropriations bill passed out of Committee today includes higher farm loan amounts than the House bill. Whereas the House bill provides $475 million for Direct Farm Ownership Loans, the Senate bill provides $650 million. For Direct Farm Operating loans, the Senate provides $1.1 billion versus $900 million in the House bill. The Senate bill also includes more for guaranteed operating loans.
Beginning and Minority Farmers — The majority of direct farm ownership and farm operating loans go to beginning and to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, so the credit numbers above are relevant here as well. Sadly, neither bill has provided funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account (IDA) program. NSAC will continue to push both houses of Congress to find a way to provide $5 million for this important farm bill program. The two bills have a big difference of opinion over the new Office of Advocacy and Outreach, the central USDA coordinating and policy arm for minority farmer, beginning farmer, and small farm issues. The House bill would match the President’s request for $7 million, but the Senate proposes only level funding at $1.7 million. NSAC will continue to press for the full requested amount.
Organic – Both the House and Senate bills adopt the requested level of $10.1 million for the National Organic Program, and as noted above, both adopt $5 million for the Organic Transitions integrated research program. It also appears that the Senate bill has included $1 million for the Organic Data Initiative, though we are still waiting on confirmation.
NSAC will be posting a chart on its website with more complete details on sustainable food and farming programs in the two pending bills in the near future.