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2011 Budget Drill Down: Sustainable Ag Research

February 3, 2010

This post is the fourth in a series of commentaries by NSAC staff on the President’s 2011 budget, released on February 1st. Read the overview by Executive Director Aimee Witteman. Look out in the following days for more budget analysis on research programs, conservation, rural programs and more.

The President’s Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request for USDA Research, Education, and Economics (REE) is $2.9 billion, up from $2.7 billion in 2010.  Within REE, the largest player is the National Institute of Food and Agriculture ($1.5 billion), followed by the Agricultural Research Service ($1.2 billion), the National Agricultural Statistics Service ($165 million), and the Economic Research Service ($87 million).  The President’s research budget does the following:

  • Makes a down-payment on innovation in sustainable agriculture.

The President’s budget request invests in the future of sustainable agriculture by increasing funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) competitive grants program to a total of $30 million.  In its twenty-two year history, SARE has funded cutting-edge research and widespread extension of sustainable agricultural systems that improve the profitability of small and mid-sized farms in ways that conserve energy, solve environmental problems, and promote entrepreneurial and community-based agriculture.  Structured differently than other USDA research programs, SARE is farmer-driven and regionally-led.

The President’s budget request divides the $30 million between research and education activities ($15 million), a new federal-state matching grants program ($10 million), and extension ($5 million).

  • Divests from organic research.

Taking a step back from last year’s budget request and the 2010 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, the President did not renew funding for the Organic Transitions Research Program (ORG), most recently called the Integrated Organic and Water Quality Program.  ORG was cut along with all of the other programs under Section 406 Legislative Authority — including Water Quality, Food Safety, and Regional Pest Management Centers.

The Agency line is that these types of activities will be funded through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (see below), but knowing how hard it has been to get any research dollars to fund much-needed organic research, we won’t hold our breath.  Congress in the 2010 Agriculture Appropriations Bill funded the program at $5 million, and we’ll be fighting for that again this year.

No mandatory funds were cut from the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, but the budget does not include any of the program’s $25 million in annual discretionary authority either.

  • Nearly doubles the funding for USDA’s largest competitive grants program.

The President’s budget request for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is an unprecedented $428.8 million (last year it was $201.5 million and Congress funded it at $262.5 million in Fiscal Year 2010).  The significant increase in funding accompanies USDA’s focus on making the program the agency’s largest competitive research grants program that will primarily fund research in five priority areas — climate change, biofuels, food safety, nutrition and childhood obesity, and food security and agricultural production.  In 2010, USDA is making $800 million available through AFRI, suggesting that if the program is funded even at the requested level, that it will be drawing on future funding to fund proposals approved this year.

Overall, the proposed discretionary funding for NIFA is exactly level – no increase, no decrease.  To get the proposed large increase in AFRI, the much smaller increase in sustainable agriculture, and a few other small higher education and extension increases, the budget proposes to end existing competitive grant programs for organic, integrated pest management, water quality, and food safety (the 406 programs mentioned above – a combined $45 million in proposed cuts), end the Sun Grant program ($2.3 million) and extension’s farm safety program ($4.9 million), and eliminate all congressionally-directed projects ($87.2 million).  The battle will now be on to see how much of that re-arranging of the agency’s budget congressional appropriators will go along with.

For more information, check out NSAC’s FY 2011 Agriculture Appropriations Chart.

Categories: Organic, Research, Education & Extension

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