NSAC's Blog

USDA Officials Testify on FY12 Budget at Two Congressional Hearings

March 11, 2011

On Thursday, March 10, top officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) testified at two Congressional hearings, the first held by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and the second held by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.  Both hearings focused on the Obama Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget proposal.

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee received testimony from the Undersecretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs (MRP), Edward Avalos, regarding their proposed FY12 budget today.

The proposed agency budget requests $2.6 billion for MRP agencies, which includes $1.4 billion for the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS), $837 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) – a decrease of $112 million from 2010 spending levels, and $94 million for the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).

Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) $1.4 billion Request Status (relative to FY11 estimates)
Market News $33.5 M Increase of $300,000 to maintain reporting of organic commodities. Overall program decrease of $700,000.
National Organic Program $10 M Increase of $3 M
Transportation and Market Development Program $7.7 M Increase of $2 M to improve access to local and regionally produced foods
Microbiological Data Program $5 M Increase of $250,000 to enhance product sampling
Pesticide Data Program $16.6 M Increase of 1.2 M for sample collection and testing
Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program $3 M Increase $1.3 M for matching grant program for local and regional food marketing opportunities
Commodity Purchase Services $13 M Increase of $882,000 to include local and regionally grown foods in F2S programs
Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Program $96 M Decrease of $1.1 M with completion of data management system

The AMS funding request is an increase of $35 million over actual FY10 spending and $20 million of FY11 estimates.  The FY12 level “includes an increase of $300,000 to maintain one-time, Farm-Bill funded reporting of organic commodities,” according to Mr. Avalos.  Additionally, the funding includes $10 million for the National Organic Program, an increase of $3 million.  This increase will help fund regulatory review and enforcement to ensure the integrity of the organic label.  Funds totaling $882,000 are included to help link local and regionally grown foods to school feeding programs through the Food and Nutrition Service’s Farm to School program.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) $837 M Request Status (relative to FY11 estimates)
Safeguarding and Emergency Preparedness/Response $758 M
Animal health $2.7 M Increase of $8.9 M for animal disease traceability; increase of $3.8 M to fund veterinary diagnosis
Plant Health $24.5M Increase of $24.5 M for pest control: brown apple moth, European grapevine moth and Asian longhorned beetle
Wildlife Services $1.4 M Increase $1.4 M for implementation of national  safety program for staff
Regulatory Services $15.3M Increase of $12 M for biotechnology regulatory activities; additional $3.3 M to enforce Animal Welfare Act
Safe Trade and International Technical Assistance $35 M Increase $1.5 M to continue implementation of 2008 Farm Bill amendments to Lacey Act; increase $600,000 for technical assistance to developing countries
Animal Welfare Efforts $7 M Increase 6.6 M for inspection activities to dog dealers Increase $400,000 for regulation of horse shows

An increase of $8.9 million over FY11 estimated levels is included in the APHIS program to support animal disease traceability efforts.  The budget also requests an increase in GIPSA funds to strengthen compliance and enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) $ 94 M Request Status (relative to FY11 estimates)
Grain Regulatory Program $18 M Level
Packers & Stockyards Program $26 M Increase of $2 M to bolster market protection for buyers and sellers
Mandatory Inspection and User Fees $50 M Level

Representative Kingston (R-GA) expressed concern that decreases come from activities core to the mission of the Agency while increases come in the form of more “crowd pleasing” programs.  Mr. Avalos responded that core programs have achieved success, so funding is being shifted into areas where problems still exist.

Representative Farr (D-CA) noted that organic agriculture is agriculture’s fastest growing sector, growing from a $7 billion industry to a more than $29 billion industry.  Farr expressed the need to enforce the organic certification and ensure consumer confidence in this growing industry.

Undersecretary Avalos also discussed the opportunity for the proposed new Healthy Food Financing Initiative to not only tackle nutrition in food deserts, but also create jobs, new markets for farmers and stimulates economies.

Representative Emerson (R-MO) voiced concern that no economic analysis was conducted prior to the writing of the new GIPSA rule and encouraged the administration to open up the rule for comment after the economic analysis is completed.  Mr. Avalos emphasized that the USDA followed the standard rule-making process and received more than 50,000 comments on the rule and could not confirm whether a comment period would take place following the economic analysis.

Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee – USDA’s FY 2012 budget

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture also heard testimony on USDA’s proposed budget today.  Subcommittee members questioned Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on the department’s priorities for the next fiscal year.

Secretary Vilsack indicated his goals were twofold: (1) to recognize the agency’s responsibility to reduce the budget while also balancing opportunity and sacrifice, and (2) to support rural America by growing a strong agriculture economy.

Senator Kohl (D-WI, Chair) questioned Vilsack on how cuts to Food Safety and Inspection Services would impact the ability for the agency to conduct inspections and ensure a safe food supply.  Repeating his response to a similar question asked at a House hearing last week, Vilsack noted that the FSIS budget is “predominantly personnel,” and that the cuts contained in the House FY11 appropriations bill would force the Agency to furlough inspectors.

Senator Brown (D-OH) asked the Secretary to explain how the Farm Service Agency (FSA) could better support beginning farmers.  Vilsack claimed that close to 50 percent of USDA Direct Loans go to beginning farmers and ranchers, and stated that he hopes the 2012 Farm Bill will focus on this issue and expand opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers.  He suggested that Congress look into offering some tax incentives to support beginning farmers.

Echoing Rep. Jo Ann Emerson’s remarks from today’s first hearing, Senator Moran (R-KS) recommended that the department make the economic analysis of the GIPSA rule available for public comment once it is completed.

A number of Senators, including Sens. Moran, Blunt, Hoeven, and Pryor asked specifically about cuts to USDA’s research budget.  Both Sens. Moran and Blunt suggested that research money should be focused on production agriculture and increasing yields, whereas Senator Hoeven asked that USDA focus on biofuels and clean coal.  In response to a question from Senator Pryor regarding cuts to the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), Secretary Vilsack suggested that USDA is increasing competitive grant funding through AFRI in order to leverage more dollars elsewhere.  According to Vilsack, these competitive grants will focus on livestock and commodity production, pest management, biofuels, yields and food security, climate change, and nutrition and obesity.

Senator Kohl expressed concern that, given proposed cuts to farm credit programs, private commercial credit would not be sufficient to support farming and ranching operations.  In response, Vilsack stated that USDA is confident that remaining farm credit options–both public and private–will be sufficient to support farmers and ranchers.

Finally, asked what his top 3 priorities are for USDA, Vilsack responded with: 1) Rural development, including conservation programs, job growth, and local and regional food system growth, 2) Trade, and 3) Food safety and nutrition, including the Child Nutrition Act and Food Safety Modernization Act.

Categories: Budget and Appropriations

One response to “USDA Officials Testify on FY12 Budget at Two Congressional Hearings”

  1. […] in food deserts, but also create jobs, new markets for farmers and stimulates economies. … health foods on a budget – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Cheap Healthy Foods and tagged Budget, Congressional, FY12, Officials, […]