May 20, 2014
On Tuesday, May 20, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee passed its funding bill for fiscal year (FY) 2015. The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee also passed its version of the bill later the same day.
The respective bills are expected go to the full Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday and the full House Appropriations Committee next week; from there, both bills could head to the full House and Senate floors later this summer.
This post breaks down the House subcommittee bill. We will write at least one more post this week to assess the Senate subcommittee bill and report on any amendments that are offered during the Senate Appropriations Committee debate on Thursday.
Research, Education, Extension, and Food Safety Outreach
We are happy to report that the House Subcommittee bill meets the President’s FY 2015 request for $2.5 million for the Food Safety Outreach Program, previously known as the National Food Safety Training, Education, Extension, Outreach and Technical Assistance program. While this funding is a step in the right direction, NSAC continues to urge appropriators to fund the program at $5 million in order to train as many farmers as possible on new food safety standards.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the process of proposing new, expansive food safety regulations for farmers and food processors under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The FSMA-authorized Food Safety Outreach Program will provide farmers with the training they need, exactly when they need it, to implement and comply with new food safety rules. Without training resources available, the final food safety regulations will be a significant burden for small and midsize farmers and processors, and will inevitably fall far short of the goal of improving food safety.
The House subcommittee maintains investments in many sustainable agriculture research, rural development, conservation, and credit programs. The bill provides level funding of $22.7 million for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. This is the same level that was provided by the final FY 2014 funding bill, and is the highest level since NSAC helped create the program in the late 1980s. SARE is the only USDA competitive grant research program with a clear and consistent focus on sustainability and farmer-driven research, and continues to urge appropriators to fund the program at $30 million — which would still only be half of its authorized level after 25 years of successful research.
Like last year, the bill accepts the Presidents’ FY 2015 budget proposal to consolidate two of the three functions of the SARE program (research as well as extension and professional development) into one line item. Last year, NSAC successfully secured report language directing that all three components (the two above, plus federal-state matching grants) should continued to be funded in the future as they have been in previous years. We have yet to determine whether or not similar language was included in the FY 2015 House bill.
We are also pleased to report that the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (also known as “ATTRA”) receives an increase from $2.25 million in FY 2014 to $2.5 million in the House Subcommittee’s bill. Despite this small bump up in funding, this level is still less than the $2.8 million the program received in FY 2010. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – USDA’s largest competitive grants research program – also receives a plus up, from $316 million to $325 million — in line with the President’s request. This represents a 3 percent increase over FY 2014 funding and an 18 percent increase over FY 2013 funding. The bill maintains level funding of $4 million for the Organic Transitions research program.
We do not yet know how much discretionary funding the bill makes available for organic data collection. However, the 2014 Farm Bill provides a total of $5 million in mandatory funding for the life of the farm bill. Organic data and market reports are vital to the rapidly growing organic industry, which recently surpassed $31 billion a year in sales.
Rural Development and Farm Loan Programs
The House bill provides an historic increase to direct farm loans made through USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), including program levels of $1.5 billion for farm ownership loans and $1.252 billion for farm operating loans. This is an increase of more than 260 percent for direct farm ownership loans and five percent for direct operating loans. Year after year, FSA has had to turn farmers away – many of them aspiring or beginning farmers – for lack of sufficient funding to meet the high demand for farm loans. This funding will allow FSA to begin to address the substantial backlog of approved but unfunded loan applications, and increase access to credit for farmers. Funding for FSA loan personnel and technical assistance remains a problem, however — especially in light of the higher demand for loans through FSA’s microloan program.
Unfortunately, the bill takes a step backward on funding for key rural development programs. Funding for the Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program is reduced from $15 million in FY 2014 to $10.75 million in FY 2015. This is a 28 percent cut in discretionary funding for one of USDA’s most effective economic development programs. Fortunately, the appropriations bill does not cut the mandatory funding provided for VAPG by the 2014 Farm Bill.
The subcommittee bill provides no discretionary funding for the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program (RMAP). This program has received no discretionary money in any of the past four appropriations cycles; however, the 2014 Farm Bill does provide $3 million in direct (mandatory) farm bill spending for RMAP in FY 2015.
At this point, we do not yet know how much money the House bill makes available for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Accounts program, a top appropriations priority for NSAC this year. The BFRIDA program is designed to help beginning farmers and ranchers finance their new and growing agricultural businesses through business and financial education and matched savings accounts. This program helps limited resource individuals with financial training and assistance so they can build assets and make needed purchases to get started in agriculture. The President requested $2.5 million for BFRIDA grants in FY 2015.
We are also waiting on more information regarding funding for USDA’s Business and Industry Loan Guarantee program, which includes a set-aside for local and regional food enterprise development.
Conservation and Energy Programs
Unfortunately, the House subcommittee bill launches an assault on the conservation and renewable energy funding provided by the 2014 Farm Bill.
The subcommittee bill cuts more than 1 million acres from the Conservation Stewardship Program, reducing funding by $109 million. The bill also cuts over $200 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and $60 million from the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. On top of conservation cuts, the House bill slashes mandatory funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) by 40 percent, from $50 million to $30 million. While it dramatically limits mandatory funding for REAP, the bill provides $3.5 million in discretionary funding for REAP loan guarantees.
The 2014 Farm Bill cut $4 billion from farm bill conservation programs, including over $2 billion from the Conservation Stewardship Program. In addition, automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration” will cut mandatory conservation funding by more than $265 million in FY 2015 alone. As a result, farmers will employ fewer conservation practices on their farms, resulting in increased pollution and soil erosion. Meanwhile, the number of farmers denied access to the programs will grow even larger. Further reductions to mandatory farm bill spending via the appropriations bill would be devastating. Moving forward, we will urge the House to reconsider this proposed rewriting of the farm bill and trust that the Senate Committee will reject this approach as it marks up its version of the bill later this week.
The one bright spot in the House bill’s treatment of conservation funding is the discretionary Conservation Operations budget. The bill provides $843 million for Conservation Operations, which is an increase of $30 million over last year’s funding level of $813 million. USDA’s ability to deliver conservation programs to farmers and ranchers depends heavily on on-the-ground conservation technical assistance, which makes up the bulk of the Conservation Operations account. NSAC lead the charge in securing this increase in funding to accommodate for newly required rental payments that USDA must pay out of the Conservation Operations account in FY 2015.
Perhaps the most egregious provision contained in the House bill is a policy rider — known as the GIPSA rider — that overrides the Farm Bill and denies poultry and livestock farmers protection under the Packers and Stockyards Act.
The Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 is the nation’s primary statute providing basic protections for livestock and poultry growers against fraudulent, deceptive, and retaliatory practices by meatpackers and poultry integrators. The rider would force USDA to rescind most components of its fair competition and contract reform rule, which it issued in December 2011. The rider will limit farmers’ free speech rights to consult with Members of Congress and will undermine market transparency.
The same issues were considered in the farm bill conference and rejected by the authorizers who have jurisdiction over this issue. The House subcommittee rider is anti-farmer and, substance aside, has no rightful place in an appropriations bill.
Just this week, more than 165 organizations from around the country delivered a letter to House and Senate appropriators in vehement opposition to the GIPSA rider. “The undersigned 168 farmer, rancher, consumer, labor, farmworker and faith organizations are writing to urge your opposition to any appropriations policy riders to limit the rulemaking authority of the Secretary of Agriculture under the Packers and Stockyards Act,” the letter states. NSAC commends Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) for speaking out today against the GIPSA rider and in support of livestock farmers. According to Rep. Pingree, the rider undermines “very important protections for farmers against unfair practices” and “puts the interests of mega corporations ahead of those of family farmers.”
In the coming days, we will be looking to the full House Appropriations Committee and to the Senate to defeat this special-interest provision.
Report Language and Next Steps
Some of the programs for which NSAC advocates are not listed in the appropriations bill text itself. Instead, funding levels for those programs are included in the accompanying report, which the subcommittee has yet to release to the public. The report also includes non-binding language, urging USDA to take certain actions.
We are pleased that the House Subcommittee report includes language recognizing the need for classical plant breeding, and encouraging USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to invest in research that supports classical plant breeding.
In the coming days, we will publish more information about the House Subcommittee’s report. Also this week, stay tuned for a detailed account of both the Senate bill, which the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee passed this afternoon, and the full Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the bill on Thursday.
Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Commodity, Crop Insurance & Credit Programs, Competition & Anti-trust, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill, Food Safety, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Organic, Research, Education & Extension, Rural Development