On Thursday, March 21, the House of Representatives voted 318-109 to adopt the Senate-passed continuing appropriations resolution, which will fund federal programs through the end of fiscal year (FY) 2013. The House did not make any changes to the bill, as amended and passed by the Senate yesterday by a vote of 73-26.
Conservation Stewardship Program
We are very pleased to report that the final bill restores funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The first FY 2013 continuing resolution left USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with insufficient money to conduct a CSP sign up this year. Fortunately, NRCS will now have the funds necessary to enroll roughly 12 million acres in the program in the remaining six months of the fiscal year. This will bring the program to a grand total of 62 million acres.
NRCS is required by the 2008 Farm Bill to enroll 12.76 million acres in the program each year. However, the automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration will reduce that total by roughly 740,000 acres. NRCS has not yet set a new enrollment deadline; however, we expect the date to be sometime in May. Once the new enrollment deadline (also called a ranking or batching cutoff) for FY 2013 is set, NSAC will launch an outreach campaign to assist farmers in signing up for the program.
Other Mandatory Conservation Programs
The same sequestration cuts – roughly 5.8 percent – will be applied to all mandatory conservation program spending. This equates to a cut of $195 million from conservation spending in FY 2013. On top of the sequestration cut, the appropriations bill includes cuts, known in Hill-speak as Changes in Mandatory Program Spending (CHIMPS), to three mandatory conservation programs – a $350 million cut to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, a $5 million cut to the Agricultural Management Assistance program, and a $12 million cut to the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. With these CHIMPS, the total FY 2013 cut to mandatory farm bill conservation programs comes out to $562 million.
For discretionary spending programs, the final appropriations bill applies a 5.3 percent sequestration cut and a 2.513 percent across-the-board rescission, for a cumulative cut of 7.813 percent. This means that, despite the Senate continuing resolution starting from a higher funding level than the House continuing resolution for some programs, the final dollar figure for most programs is lower than it was in FY 2012.
Another way to state it is the Senate and final bill picked a handful of winners to receive more than they would have otherwise received – for instance the Women Infants and Children feeding program, implementation money for FDA for the Food Safety Modernization Act, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, and several others – and as a result of those increases, all other programs actually received less than they would have had they only been hit with the sequester reduction.
In FY 2012, for example, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program was funded at $19.2 million. By comparison, the full-year funding level for the latter half of FY 2013 will be $17.7 million. Likewise, in FY 2012, the discretionary Conservation Operations account, which funds Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) through NRCS, was funded at $828.2 million. In the bill that Congress approved today, that funding level drops to $766.2 million. For a full breakdown of funding levels by program, download our updated appropriations chart.
The final FY 2013 appropriations bill also includes two awful policy riders. The first overrides the farm bill and denies poultry and livestock producers certain protections under the Packers and Stockyards Act. The bill includes not only existing rider language from the FY 2012 appropriations bill that limits USDA’s ability to further implement the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) contract fairness rule; it also contains extremist language that forces USDA to rescind existing pieces of the GIPSA final rule that USDA began to implement late in 2011 and that was actually approved for publication by an appropriations rider in 2012. That unprecedented language was included in the initial FY 2013 House Agriculture Appropriations bill last year, but was not included in the appropriations bill that the House passed last week.
Following the President signing the appropriations bill into law, USDA will begin to disassemble the few basic protections that it put in place for poultry producers in December 2011. The rider language is disastrous for farmers and sets a terrible precedent for future appropriations bills. Despite opposition from American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, NSAC and many others, supporters of the rider in the House and Senate made it quite clear this week that the interests of multinational meat packing corporations rise far above the well-being of poultry and livestock farmers.
The bill also includes a legislative rider benefiting the biotech industry and undermining judicial review of transgenic crops. The rider permits USDA to deregulate genetically modified crops even in the case of a court ruling invalidating or vacating such a deregulation. This is a clear violation of the separation of powers and judicial review. Conventional (non-biotech) and organic farmers have suffered economic losses due to contamination from biotechnology products, and this policy rider likely makes that situation worse in the future.
We commend Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) for his dedicated effort to strike both riders from the Senate appropriations bill. Senator Tester has long been a leading advocate for family farmers and ranchers not only in Montana, but across the country. Joining Senator Tester as co-sponsors of the GIPSA amendment were Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Senator Tester also worked with Senators Leahy, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to offer the biotechnology review amendment. Unfortunately, neither of the amendments was allowed to come to the Senate floor for a vote; however, we thank these Senators for their efforts and look forward to working with them to promote fairness in agriculture.
Finally, we are disappointed that the final FY 2013 appropriations bill does not address the programs left stranded and without any FY 2013 funding by the farm bill extension. These programs for beginning, minority, organic, specialty crop, and local food farmers; renewable energy; and economic development have at this point zero funding for 2013. Entire sectors of agriculture are being told they do not count, and the innovation and job-creating potential of these programs is being lost. At the same time, Congress continues to provide antiquated direct production subsidies despite high commodity prices and farm income, and despite decisions by both Agriculture Committees and by the full Senate in 2012 to terminate them. We strongly urge Congress to use any opportunity it has between now and the upcoming debt ceiling debate later this spring to provide mandatory funding for these critical programs.
Looking Forward to FY 2014
As we wrap up the FY 2013 appropriations cycle, we also begin our work on FY 2014. In response to a request from the House Subcommittee on Agriculture Appropriations, NSAC submitted written testimony outlining our FY 2014 appropriations requests today. In our testimony, we argue that the time has come to stop cutting successful programs that promote economic development, resource conservation, and innovation, and instead build upon our successes through these programs.
The FY 2014 process is only just beginning, but we are hopeful that Congress can return to normal order and reverse the trend of undermining highly successful programs that benefit producers, consumers, and communities nationwide.