NSAC's Blog

Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: Senate Markup – Research, Education, Extension

May 1, 2012

Note to Readers — This is the ninth in a series of posts on the 2012 Farm Bill reported out of the Senate Agriculture Committee on April 26.

The bill that the Senate Agriculture Committee voted out of committee last week now makes its way to the Senate floor and hopefully will be taken up by the House later this spring.  While there were some key highlights included on commodity program reform, organic agriculture, and local food, there was not much headway made on sustainable agriculture research priorities in the current bill that came out of the Senate.

A detailed breakdown regarding what research provisions were (and were not) included in the draft bill presented to the Committee by Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) is available in this earlier post.  This post focuses on amendments to the bill pursued before and during Committee markup last week.

Seeds and Breeds

We were pleased to see that Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY) filed and offered an amendment in support of classical breeding during the Senate markup.  Her amendment proposed to allocate 5 percent of total funding within the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) to projects involving classical plant and animal breeding – which closely mirrors the report language included in the 2008 Farm Bill which clarifies Congress’ intent in making public breeding a research priority in the newly created competitive grants program.  Despite this congressional mandate and the tremendous demand for more research on conventionally bred and locally adapted seeds and breeds, USDA has failed to sufficiently address the nation’s public breeding needs.  Ultimately, Sen. Gillibrand withdrew her amendment and we were disappointed to see no improvements to the AFRI program in the Senate bill voted out of committee.

Beginning Farmers and Local Food

There were no major revisions to beginning farmer research priorities, aside from one small change made to the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program which added military veterans to the 25 percent set-aside which currently funds projects that meet the needs of socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers and ranchers, as well as farmworkers aspiring to become farmers.  For more details on other beginning farmer related provisions, see our previous blog post.

On the local food research agenda, we were pleased to see that the local and regional food data collection initiative included in the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act was left intact from the draft farm bill presented by Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Roberts (R-KS) that was released prior to mark up.  We were disappointed, however, to see that there was no money provided to this new initiative, and will be working with other champions in the Senate and House to hopefully obtain mandatory funding to kick start this program.  For more details on other local food related provisions, see our previous blog post.

Horticulture and Organic

There were no changes made to two key mandatory programs that fund research on specialty crops and organic agriculture.  The Specialty Crop Research Initiative received a total of $200 million over the life of the farm bill and its funding levels are made permanent into future farm bill cycles at $50 million per year.  The Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative maintains the funding levels included in the mark – $80 million over the life of the farm bill, or $16 million per year plus an authorization for $25 million per year in appropriations.  This is 20 percent decrease in annual funding, and NSAC will be continuing to advocate for additional resources to support organic research as the farm bill process moves forward.  For more details on other organic provisions, see our previous blog post.

Other Research Provisions

Sen. Leahy (D-VT) filed an amendment that included an authorization for the Regional Integrated Pest Management Centers, a public health reporting requirement for USDA programs and policies, and re-establishing the Agricultural Science and Technology Review Board which has historically provided oversight of federally funded technology development related to agriculture.  We are happy to report that the IPM Centers authorization made it into the final manager’s amendment presented at markup.  Sadly, however, the other two provisions included in Sen. Leahy’s amendment were not accepted.  We will continue to work on them as the farm bill process moves forward.

Another disappointment in the research title was the so-called “sun setting” of the provision that authorizes the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program.  SARE has until now functioned under a permanent authorization.  While not an imminent threat in any way, this change now makes the future of this incredibly successful program somewhat more precarious, as sustainable agriculture stakeholders will need to ensure that the program gets reauthorized in every future farm bill.

There were no other changes in the Research Title from what was included in the draft mark released prior to markup.

One issue which NSAC was especially frustrated was not included in the final bill was a proposal to clarify the eligibility requirements within AFRI.  The statute clearly states that USDA should solicit applications from wide variety of eligible applicants, including private organizations, federal agencies, and research foundations, in addition to public and private colleges and universities.   However, the statute has been interpreted we believe in a manner contrary to the intent of Congress, to restrict eligibility for integrated projects to only academic institutions.  The ball is now in Congress’ court to clarify whether the program will be competitive or non-competitive.  We hope before the farm bill process is concluded the farm bill will restore all of AFRI to fully competitive status.

For more information on which research provisions were included in the draft mark, see our previous blog post.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Farm Bill, Food Safety, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Research, Education & Extension

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