June 6, 2013
The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee yesterday approved its fiscal year (FY) 2014 agriculture appropriations bill by voice vote. The bill sets discretionary spending at $19.5 billion, which is $1.3 billion below the FY 2013 enacted level but roughly equal to the FY 2013 enacted level minus sequestration (across-the-board budget cuts imposed in FY 2013 following the breakdown of comprehensive budget talks).
The bill will now be taken up by the House Appropriations Committee, likely sometime next week, and then by the full House, likely sometime soon after the full House deals with the new five-year farm bill. In recent years, amendments to the bill have been taken up at the full Committee markup rather than during the increasingly proforma Subcommittee markup. So next week’s full Committee markup could include amendments that, if successful, could change some of what is reported below about the Subcommittee bill.
Before the final FY 2014 agriculture appropriations bill can become law, the Senate must go through the same legislative process, and the two bills must then be reconciled. The House and Senate are working from very different vantage points — so different, in fact, that it is unlikely that Congress will finish new appropriations bills this year, forcing Congress to resort to another continuing resolution.
The Senate appropriations bills assume spending at the levels set by in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) and further assume that sequestration will be repealed. The House assumes much deeper cuts than the deep cuts already agreed to in the BCA and assumes the continuation of sequestration. The House is further assuming restoration of defense-related and homeland security spending cuts, bringing those items back close to their pre-sequestration levels, and thus making even deeper cuts to social programs.
In short, the differences between the two bodies, and the absence of an agreement to even begin work on a final budget deal, most likely portends another continuing resolution this fall, with spending continued on remote control from the current fiscal year.
We are delighted to report that the House Subcommittee bill makes no cut to the Conservation Stewardship Program beyond the cut made by sequestration.
However, as we posted earlier this week, the bill cuts other mandatory conservation spending by more than $500 million in FY 2014. More than 25 national conservation organizations delivered a letter to House Appropriators opposing these cuts and more generally opposing the practice of cutting mandatory conservation program funding in annual appropriations bills.
In recognition of the critical importance of funding for conservation technical assistance, the Subcommittee bill increases USDA’s discretionary conservation operations budget from $767 million in FY 2013 to $810 million in FY 2014. This is significantly less than historic levels, but is an important reversal of a downward trend that has undermined USDA’s capacity to effectively deliver conservation programs to farmers and ranchers.
Rural Development and Farm Loans
For the most part, funding for important and successful rural development programs increases slightly over enacted FY 2013 levels. The bill increases funding for the Value Added Producer Grants program from $13.8 million to the President’s budget request of $15 million. We commend the Subcommittee for recognizing the importance of the program to rural economic development. The bill provides $37 million through the local foods set aside within the Business and Industry guaranteed loans program, down slightly from $37.9 million in FY 2013.
No discretionary funding is provided for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program. The bill would also provide no funding for the Rural Cooperative Development Grants program or for the Rural Business Opportunity Grants program.
On a brighter note, a number of important farm loan programs receive significant increases. The bill increases funding for Direct Farm Ownership loans from $438 million to $575 million, Guaranteed Farm Ownership loans from $1.4 billion to $2 billion, and Direct Farm Operating loans from $970 million to $1.13 billion. For the first two loan programs, the Subcommittee matched the levels requested by the President. While the plus-up for Direct Operating Loans does not meet the President’s request for $1.22 billion, it represents an important first step in addressing a long and growing application backlog.
Research, Education, and Extension
As with the rural development programs, the House Subcommittee bill provides slight increases many for research, education, and extension programs. The bill increases funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, a top NSAC appropriations priority, from $17.7 million to slightly more than $19 million. This is below the President’s budget request of $22.7 million, and far below the program’s authorized funding level of $60 million. Importantly, the bill explicitly accepts the Administration’s proposal to consolidate the various SARE research, education, and extension funding activities into a single line item. While all SARE funding would be provided through the Research and Education funding line, USDA has committed to retaining each of the program’s unique funding activities.
The bill provides $4 million for the Organic Transitions program, $2.25 million for the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) program, and $291 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), a six percent increase over the FY 2013 level.
Unlike in previous years, the House Subcommittee’s bill is surprisingly clear of legislative riders. The bill contains no riders related to livestock competition and contract fairness, biotech, wetlands, or pesticides.
Important Report Language
The Subcommittee report also takes steps forward in promoting public research, local food systems, and organic agriculture. First, the report encourages the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to invest in research, methods, and tools that support classical plant breeding. This important language has been included in Senate appropriations bills in the past, but never in the House.
Second, the Subcommittee directs USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) to coordinate USDA sub-agencies that are involved in data collection, analysis, and research on the production, pricing, distribution, and marketing of locally and regionally produced agricultural products and to identify gaps in the data. The Subcommittee also requests that ERS provide a report that assesses the scope and trends in local and regional food systems.
Third, the report expresses concern that USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) is moving too slowly in developing and offering crop insurance options (known as price elections) for organic farmers. USDA has stated that it will likely develop 6-10 new organic price elections in 2014. The Subcommittee requests a report from USDA detailing the Department’s plan and timetable for implementing organic price elections for all organic crops.
The bill includes a funding level for the largest program in the agriculture appropriations bill — the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Feeding Program — that is nearly $500 million below the level requested by USDA. The combination of the WIC cut, the changes to mandatory farm bill conservation spending levels of over $500 million, and a smaller decrease in international food assistance enabled the the Subcommittee to include funding increases elsewhere in the bill and still come out with a total that roughly equals the FY 2013 level including sequestration.
For a more detailed breakdown of the funding levels provided in the Subcommittee’s bill, you can download NSAC’s updated appropriations chart.