January 15, 2021
With the country facing an imminent government shutdown, the President finally signed the $2.3 trillion Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 on December 28th. This bill includes both badly needed emergency COVID-19 relief aid as well as regular fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations. For more information on the COVID-19 relief aspects of the bill check out our other blog on the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 and for more about the process check out our previous October blog on the appropriations process.
In the following blog we will focus on the content of the FY 2021 Agriculture appropriations bill and how the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s appropriations priorities fared in the process.
Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Priorities
The FY 2021 agriculture spending section of the bill, provides $23.395 billion in discretionary funding for food and agriculture programs, which represents a $217 million increase above the FY 2020 enacted level.
Overall, NSAC is very pleased with the final FY 2021 appropriations for agriculture spending. The sustainable agriculture community was able to rally together to protect, and in several cases secure modest, but important increases to priority programs. One of the biggest highlights for NSAC is the inclusion of $40 million for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) only competitive research program focused entirely on sustainable agriculture. The $40 million provided to SARE is a record high for the program, which is authorized at $60 million.
NSAC’s analysis of the FY2021 agriculture spending package, including how our sustainable agriculture and food system priorities fared is organized below into the following cores issue areas:
For a detailed spreadsheet of FY 2021 funding levels, download our updated appropriations chart.
Conservation and Renewable Energy
NSAC is very pleased that for the fourth consecutive year appropriators did not need to cut mandatory funding from any of the farm bill’s major working lands conservation programs – including the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – because the two-year budget deal that was struck last summer. In years past, when fiscally constrained by austere budget caps imposed by Budget Control act of 2010, appropriators cut mandatory funding from conservation programs to pay for other priorities.
The appropriations bill is not completely without cuts, however as it does contain an unfortunate, slight decrease in funding for Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA), which provides farmers with on-the ground conservation support from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service local offices. CTA supports farmers’ resource management through conservation planning assistance, resource assessment, and monitoring of conservation activities. CTA received $734.26 million in the FY 2021 bill and $735.76 million in FY 2020.
The FY 2021 spending bill also protects farm bill mandatory funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which provides grants and loans to farmers and rural businesses to implement wind, solar, and other renewable energy systems, and also provides resources for energy audits and renewable resources development. The 2018 Farm Bill provided REAP with $50 million in mandatory funding annually, maintaining 2014 Farm Bill levels. The FY 2021 spending bill also included an additional appropriation of nearly $400,000 in loan capital for the loan portion of REAP. This represents a cut relative to FY 2020, when the program was provided an additional tranche of $700,000 for loan capital.
Local Food and Rural Development
The FY 2021 bill includes a number of wins for local/regional food systems, healthy food access, and rural development. Several NSAC priority programs were either protected or provided with modest increases as part of this year’s spending package.
The 2018 Farm Bill created the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), a program championed by NSAC, which combined the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and the Value-Added Producers Grant Program (VAPG).
Under LAMP, both VAPG and FMLFPP are provided with permanent mandatory funding; however in combining those programs, FMLFPP ends up with $5.3 million less in annual mandatory funding compared to its level under the 2014 Farm Bill. VAPG was provided with a small increase in mandatory funding relative to 2014 Farm Bill levels, but that increase is far less than the program’s historic funding levels. Over the life of the 2014 Farm Bill, VAPG received on average $25.9 million in combined mandatory and discretionary funding per year; whereas under the 2018 Farm Bill, VAPG is provided with only $17.5 million in mandatory funding per year.
Thankfully, congressional appropriators once again recognized the importance of these keystone local food and entrepreneurship programs and included $7.4 million in discretionary funds for FMLFPP and $12 million for VAPG in the FY 2021 spending package. The $7.4 million provided to FMLFPP is an increase of $2 million compared to FY 2020 when appropriators provided the program with $5.4 million in discretionary funding.
Several other important rural economic development programs are also provided with robust funding in the FY 2021 bill. The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) was provided $6 million in grant and loan funding for FY 2021. RMAP provides organizations and entities engaged in rural economic development with loan and grant capital to support current rural owner-operator small businesses and prospective entrepreneurs with technical assistance and microloans.
However, the good news does not stop there. The FY 2021 spending package also includes $7 million (an increase of $2 million relative to FY 2020) to continue and expand the work of the new Office of Urban Agriculture (authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill) and $12 million for Farm to School Grant Program, a new high for the program. The FY 2021 bill also provides $5 million for the USDA’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) which provides resources to healthy food retail and food enterprise projects to overcome the higher costs and initial barriers to serving areas with inequitable access.
Beginning, Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers
The 2018 Farm Bill created the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program in order to strengthen USDA’s assistance to beginning, veteran, tribal, and other underserved farmers. FOTO combines two of USDA’s flagship training and technical assistance programs – the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (aka “Section 2501”).
In combining the funding and authorizations for BFRDP and 2501, Congress was able to provide both programs with permanent baseline funding. However to do so, each program took a cut from historic funding levels in the first few years of the new, combined program.
With the ultimate goal of returning both programs to their historic funding levels, NSAC has fought to secure discretionary funding to fill the gaps. We are pleased that the FY 2021 spending package includes a $5 million for FOTO. However, we are concerned that FOTO funding was provided without placing needed constraints on how the USDA can use the funding to prevent it from being used for other priorities like what was done with the FY 2020 grant cycle.
Research and Food Safety
As mentioned above, NSAC is very excited that the FY 2021 bill provides the SARE program with $40 million – a $3 million increase. The Organic Transitions (ORG) research program, which helps support organic farmers and livestock producers, also received an increase and was provided $7 million (FY 2020 enacted $6 million).
The broader agriculture research spending portfolio also saw some important increases.; The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) was provided an additional $10 million in grant funding, bringing total funding up to $435 million. This continues a trend of significant year-to-year increases for agriculture research.
The Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP), which funds food safety related outreach, education, training, and technical assistance projects that directly assist small and mid-sized farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, small processors, and small-scale wholesalers was provided with $10 million for FY 2021 which is a $2 million increase relative to FY 2020.
Farm Credit and Support Services
Access to credit is critical for farmers, particularly for those just beginning their careers and for producers not well served by the commercial lending sector. Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan programs fill the lending gap by providing financing for producers unable to secure credit from private lenders. For decades, these programs have increased access to credit for small and mid-size family farms and for operations run by beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers.
The FY 2021 spending levels for FSA Guaranteed and Direct Operating loans, as well as for Guaranteed Farm Ownership loans all saw increases relative to FY 2020:
The FY 2022 Appropriations Process
With the presidency and control of both the Senate and the House in the hands of the Democratic Party, the FY 2022 appropriations process might follow a path more akin to regular order. FY 2021 was the last year in which the Budget Control Act of 2011’s (BCA) threat of sequestration and automatic spending cuts applied to discretionary spending; meaning that for FY 2022 Congress will have full control over setting the 301(a) allocation for discretionary spending. Unfortunately, mandatory sequestration on agriculture spending will continue unless Congress acts on the matter. NSAC will be advocating to members of the Budget Committees to finally end mandatory sequestration of farm programs which has resulted in millions of dollars being cut from critical conservation, beginning farmer, local food, and organic research programs. For more information on the BCA and sequestration check out this previous NSAC blog.
Another incredibly, important issue related to FY 2022 appropriations process that NSAC will be watching closely is how 302(b) allocations are determined and whether or not agriculture spending sees any significant boost. This is critically important relative to addressing the climate crisis.
NSAC is very pleased that the agriculture spending bill was provided with a modest increase in their 302(b) allocation for FY 2021, as it allowed them to make some important investments in sustainable agriculture and food systems programs rather than cuts. However, the increase of $217 million above FY20 enacted level was not sufficient for the kind of climate change focused investments that are needed in the agriculture and food systems sector.
NSAC will be working to advocate for an increased 302(b) allocation for the agriculture spending bill commensurate with the critical role that agriculture can play in our country’s climate change mitigation and carbon sequestration efforts. Without increased investment in soil health initiatives, crop and livestock integration, agroforestry, and protecting farmland from development, agriculture will continue to be a major contributor to the climate crisis instead of being part of the solution. Farmers and ranchers are committed to being part of the climate solution, Congress must ensure that the tools, resources, and technical assistance that they need are available to them.
The most immediate way in which Congress can act is by providing increased investments in conversation programs and sustainable agriculture research and extension programs through the annual appropriations process.Such increased investments are only possible if the agriculture appropriations subcommittee is provided a funding allocation adequate to support the critical role that agriculture can play in addressing the climate crisis.
Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Carousel, Commodity, Crop Insurance & Credit Programs, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Food Safety, General Interest, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Organic, Research, Education & Extension, Rural Development