February 9, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Greg Fogel, Senior Policy Specialist, 202-547-5754
NSAC Comments on the President’s FY 2017 Budget Request
President’s request would preserve conservation funding and increase funding for sustainable agriculture priorities
Alongside President Obama’s proposal to double funding for public lands conservation through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, his FY 2017 budget request preserves farm bill funding for private lands conservation programs, including the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). For the first time in years, the budget proposes no new cuts to these critical programs.
We applaud the Administration for recognizing the importance of these programs in the face of a changing climate, more extreme weather events, and serious water quality programs across the country. Voluntary conservation programs are the primary means through which farmers, ranchers, and foresters build soil health, sequester carbon, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat.
This week marks the two-year anniversary of the 2014 Farm Bill being signed into law. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees made tough decisions during that process and ultimately cut over $4 billion dollars over ten years from conservation programs. The President’s 2017 budget request rightly recognizes that the business of re-writing farm bill conservation programs should be left for the next farm bill debate. NSAC will urge congressional appropriators to reach a similar consensus.
We are very pleased that the budget request includes increased funding for both the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), from $350 million to $375 million in discretionary spending, and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, from $24.7 million to $30 million.
SARE is the only USDA competitive grants research program with a clear and consistent focus on sustainability and farmer-driven research. This is the first time in several years that the Administration has requested an increase in funding for SARE, recognizing the importance of cutting-edge research that is easily accessible, regionally appropriate, and farmer-tested. The increased funding request is in part a response to the fact that, in recent years, USDA has only been able to fund 6 percent of eligible SARE proposals due to high demand and lack of funding.
AFRI is the largest of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s competitive grant programs, accounting for 60 percent of NIFA’s total competitive funding. SARE serves as an important complement to AFRI, identifying innovations and opening new lines of research that AFRI funds can further with larger and more complex projects. NSAC appreciates the Administration’s recognition of the importance of scaling up investments for basic and applied agricultural research through programs like AFRI and SARE. We will continue to work with appropriators to secure a comprehensive investment boost for agricultural research by increasing funding for both AFRI and SARE.
Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Producers
The Administration’s request for $10 million in much-needed discretionary funding for Outreach and Technical Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers, also known as the “Section 2501” program, should be celebrated by both agriculture and veterans’ advocacy groups. When combined with the $10 million that is currently provided through the 2014 Farm Bill, the additional appropriated dollars would restore total funding for the Department’s keystone minority farmer program to its historic level of $20 million per year. With restored funding the program would be in a significantly better position to meet the increased demand for outreach and technical assistance by historically underserved producers, including military veterans.
Crop Insurance Reform
NSAC commends the White House for proposing some partial federal crop insurance program reforms. We hope that, as Congress begins debating the next farm bill, crop insurance reform proposals will become even more comprehensive and progressive. Crop insurance reforms should aspire to support conservation approaches to risk reduction, improve access to the wide swaths of agriculture that are underserved, increase rather than decrease farming opportunities, and make the program more transparent and accountable.
In light of the significant $26 million increase in the request for Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) implementation funding, we are disappointed that the budget does not also include an increase for farmer food safety training. The Food Safety Outreach, Education, Training, and Technical Assistance competitive grants program (FSOP) helps small and mid-size farms and small processing facilities comply with new and complex food safety regulations. At the current funding of $5 million, USDA will be able to reach only a fraction of the producers, processors, and wholesalers that will be impacted by the new regulations. We will work with Congress to increase FSOP funding in FY 2017 to at least double its current funding level so that the farming community can become more prepared to understand and adapt to the new and wide-ranging regulatory environment it is now facing.
About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: https://sustainableagriculture.net