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Unpacking the House Appropriations Committee FY 2022 Agriculture Funding Bill

July 22, 2021

Crimson clover, a startlingly beautiful cover crop. Photo credit: SARE
Crimson clover, a startlingly beautiful cover crop. Photo credit: SARE

On June 30th, the House Appropriations Committee marked up and approved its fiscal year (FY) 2022 Agriculture Spending bill. The full House Appropriations Committee markup and approval followed the Agriculture Subcommittee’s approval of the funding bill on Friday, June 12. The agriculture appropriations bill includes funding for a wide range of farm and food programs, including conservation initiatives, beginning farmer and rancher training, and agricultural research. 

For FY 2022, the bill provides discretionary funding of $26.55 billion – an increase of $2.851 billion, more than 10 percent above FY 2021 but slightly below President Biden’s Budget request of $27.9 billion.

The full House of Representatives is expected to take up the agriculture spending bill the week of July 26th as part of a “minibus” combining the agriculture spending bill with 6 other appropriations bills. The agriculture funding bill is just one of the 12 total bills that appropriators must develop and pass every fiscal year, which unlike the calendar year, runs from October 1, 2021 – September 30, 2022. September 30, 2021 at midnight is the deadline by which Congress and the President must enact new spending legislation or a “continuing resolution” of current spending levels to prevent a government shutdown. 

Unpacking the Bill Content

In this post, NSAC outlines highlights from the FY 2022 House Agriculture Appropriations bill as it pertains to the sustainable agriculture community. For a more comprehensive look at the programs and funding levels contained in the agriculture spending bill that NSAC tracks, check out our newly updated appropriations chart. Typically bills are accompanied by official reports that help to explain the details of an appropriations bill and some of the related Congressional intent.  The full bill text and accompanying report language can be found here. Issue areas covered in this analysis include:

  • Climate and Conservation
  • Research and Food Safety
  • Local Food and Rural Development
  • Farm Loans and Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Producers

Climate and Conservation

Investing in mitigating and adapting to climate change is a welcomed overarching theme within the House FY 2022 Agriculture spending bill. According to the agriculture subcommittee, the FY 2022 Agriculture spending bill includes $347.4 million across USDA to address the impacts of climate change. That $347.4 million includes, among other things, $15 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) to engage with the USDA’s existing national network of regional climate hubs for risk adaptation and mitigation to climate change. The bill provides funding to a number of other USDA agencies and services, in addition to NRCS, to support, expand and engage with the existing network of climate hubs. The bill also allocates $2 million to the Risk Management Agency to study the actuarial soundness of possible new climate change related crop insurance products.

In addition to climate specific investments the bill also proposes to increase funding for Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA). CTA is the backbone of USDA’s conservation programs. Through CTA, NRCS field staff work with farmers to develop and implement conservation plans to conserve resources on their farms and enroll in conservation programs. Robust CTA funding is essential to USDA efforts to combat climate change. The house bill funds CTA at $759.813 million, which is a $25 million increase over the FY 2021 enacted level – a welcomed increase.  However, if agriculture is to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, as part of the Biden plan to reach net-zero for the overall economy by 2050, such an increase will likely be insufficient in the long run. We will need a sustained increase in CTA funding over many years, coupled with significant additional investment in NRCS conservation programs, if agriculture is to reach its targets and become net-zero.  

Renewable energy development in rural communities is another important piece of the puzzle when it comes to mitigating and adapting to climate change and reaching the goal of net-zero by 2050. Thankfully, the FY 2022 agriculture spending bill includes robust increased funding for the Rural Energy For America Program (REAP). REAP is provided $30.4 million in the FY 2022. Of this, $30 million is for grants and the remaining $400,000 is for loan capital, representing an approximately $30 million increase over FY 2021 enacted levels. This is on top of the program’s mandatory farm bill funding of $50 million per year. 

In addition to the specific funding amounts for conservation and climate related investments, the bill contains some interesting report language (as follows) that will hopefully, if included in the final package that passes Congress, be helpful in efforts to use existing NRCS programs to address climate change:

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) Bundles.—The Committee recognizes the important role the agriculture sector can play in the effort to mitigate the impacts of global climate change and understands CSP is well-positioned to enhance support for agricultural practices and systems with the greatest climate change adaptation and mitigation potential. The Committee encourages NRCS to create climate change mitigation bundles within CSP, as recommended in the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis June 2020 report. Climate change mitigation bundles should include practices that reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, such as improved nutrient management, and practices that increase carbon sequestration and improve soil health, such as using cover crops, conservation tillage, diverse and resource-conserving crop rotations, and advanced grazing management. Given the wide geographic variations in climate, rainfall, soil, and topography, the bundles should be region specific and provide flexibility, allowing bundles to be tailored to the needs and conditions of each operation.

Grazing Lands Conservation.—The Committee recognizes the importance of collaborative technical assistance to help producers effectively manage grazing lands to protect water quality, improve soil health, sequester carbon in the soil, and increase resilience and producer profitability. The Committee directs NRCS to increase support for partnerships that provide grazing lands conservation technical services such as grazing planning, workshops and demonstrations, peer-to-peer education, workforce training, and producer outreach, including support for partnerships that address unique needs at the local, state, and regional level.

Research and Food Safety

The FY22 agriculture appropriations bill includes a number of important increases to key agricultural research programs. One of the most exciting investments included in the FY 2022 bill from the standpoint of sustainable agriculture is the $50 million for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) program, a $10 million increase from FY 2021. SARE is the USDA’s flagship on-farm research program and only research grant program solely dedicated to sustainable agriculture and education. This funding level will allow SARE’s farmer driven research to keep pace with the growing challenges farmers face in remaining profitable and resilient in the context of climate change. 

The FY 2022 bill also includes a substantial increase to the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the largest federal research program providing competitive grants to researchers to solve pressing challenges facing farmers and rural economies. The FY 2022 agriculture package provides AFRI with $450 million, a $15 million increase relative to FY 2021. The FY 2022 bill also includes $15 million for the Long-term Agroecological Research (LTAR) network, a constellation of Agricultural Research Service sites around the country dedicated to long term research on agroecological farming practices and systems. 

The Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP), which funds food safety related outreach, education, training, and technical assistance projects that directly assist small- and mid-sized farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, small processors, and small-scale wholesalers, was provided flat funding of $10 million in the FY22 bill. The Organic Transitions (ORG) research program, which helps provide education and research support for transitioning organic farmers and livestock producers, is funded at $8 million in FY 2022, a $1million increase relative to FY 2021.

Local Food, Rural Development and Healthy Food Access

Local food, rural development, and healthy food access is another bright spot in the House FY 2022 agriculture spending bill. 

The 2018 Farm Bill created the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), a program championed by NSAC, which combined the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and the Value-Added Producers Grant Program (VAPG).

The agriculture spending bill recognizes the importance of these keystone local food and entrepreneurship programs and includes $7.4 million in discretionary funds for FMLFPP, (flat funding compared to FY 2021) and $14 million for VAPG in FY 2022, a $2 million increase as compared to FY 2021. This funding for the LAMP subprograms FMLFPP and VAPG is in addition to mandatory farm bill funding. 

The agriculture spending package also includes $9.5 million for the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Forms of Production, a $2.5 million increase when compared to FY 2021. The Office and its associated programs and authorities were created in the 2018 Farm Bill. 

The agriculture spending bill also includes $2 million for the Agricultural Marketing Service to start a new Small Meat Packing Plants Apprenticeship program, as envisioned by the Strengthening Local Processing Act. Given the increasing demand for local or regional sustainable meat and poultry, and the challenges faced by small- and medium-sized meatpacking operations during the pandemic, this funding aims to bolster workforce development for smaller meatpackers and foster partnerships with existing institutions and organizations with expertise in meatpacking operations.  

In the more traditional rural economic development space, the agriculture bill contains a significant increase for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP). In the FY 2022 bill, RMAP is provided with $8 million for grants and enough capital for $150 million worth of direct loans. The FY 2021 bill provided RMAP with $6 million for both grants and loans.

The FY 2022 bill also includes increased funding for healthy food access in rural and urban communities. The bill includes a substantial increase to the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program, providing the program with $30 million, a $9 million increase relative to FY21; and $6 million for the Rural Development Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a $1 million increase relative to FY21. 

In addition to the specific funding allocations discussed above the spending bill included the following interesting and noteworthy report language: 

Local Food Hubs—Local, resilient food systems are relevant for the farm to table movement. Increasing numbers of producers lack infrastructure, and knowledge of HAACP and food processing licensing requirements. The Committee provides an increase of $1,000,000 for staff and a cooperative agreement to develop a strategic plan for creating regional rural food hubs to support locally sourced, branded, value-added products that are properly inspected. Design function should integrate a model that allows, water sharing, water, workspace, loading dock, accounting, and utilities to accelerate accessibility of locally-sourced, branded value added products. In addition, the plan should include staffing recommendations for food safety compliance federal inspector interface to support more effective production and marketing of locally grown and produced foods.

Farm Loans and Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Producers

As part of overall Congressional efforts to address historic and current racial discrimination within USDA programs and policies, the FY 2022 agriculture spending bill contains a number of provisions related to socially disadvantaged producers and social justice. The spending bill includes $35 million for the USDA Office of Civil Rights, an increase of $12 million relative to FY 2021. The bill also provides $60 million to resolve problems with heirs’ property, Black-owned farmland for which ownership transfers took place without wills and estate plans. 

​​It also provides funding to improve outreach and program access to historically underserved communities through the Farming Opportunities, Training and Outreach (FOTO) program, which is an umbrella program for the the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (aka “Section 2501”). The FY 2022 spending bill provides FOTO with $5 million, which is in addition to the annual farm bill funding the program receives. $5 million is flat funding for the program relative to FY 2021. 

Access to credit is critical for farmers, particularly for those just beginning their careers and for producers not well served by the commercial lending sector. Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan programs fill the lending gap by providing financing for producers unable to secure credit from private lenders. For decades, these programs have increased access to credit for small- and mid-size family farms and for operations run by beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers.

The FY 2022 bill largely maintains program levels for Guaranteed and Direct Operating loans, as well as for Guaranteed Farm Ownership loans with modest increases to Direct and Guaranteed Farmownership loans:

  • Direct Operating Loans: $1.633 billion (flat relative to FY 2021)
  • Direct Farm Ownership Loans: $2.8 billion ($300 million increase) 
  • Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loans: $3.5 billion ($200 million increase)
  • Guaranteed Operating Loans: $2.118 billion  (flat relative to FY 2021)

Next steps in the process

Now that the House Appropriations Committee has passed their FY 2022 agriculture spending bill, it will go to the full floor of the House for consideration by the full chamber. The agriculture spending bill is scheduled to be considered next week, along with 6 other spending bills, as part of a 7 bill “minibus”.

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has not yet released or marked up a bill and it is unclear when they will move forward. Senate progress is partially hampered by ongoing discussions and debates on using budget reconciliation to get around the Senate filibuster. 

Normally, the President’s budget, released in May, would be followed by the House and Senate Budget Committee developing and passing a joint or concurrent budget resolution, which sets the topline level of funding available to the Appropriations Committees to spend, often referred to as the 302(a) allocation. However, the budget resolution is also the vehicle in which Congress would need to include Budget Reconciliation instructions in order to trigger that special process. 

Budget reconciliation is a special budget maneuver that essentially allows a majority party in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House to fast track increases or decreases to direct spending levels (not discretionary spending), to revenue (tax policy) and to the debt-ceiling, in a manner that allows the Senate to side-step the filibuster and 60-vote threshold.  

Democractic leaders have not finalized adopting a joint budget resolution to set the 302(a) allocation for the appropriators because they are pursuing a two track path toward major infrastructure, climate, and human capital investments. The current approach is to first pass a bipartisan infrastructure package in the Senate, and then move to adopting a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions in it to unlock a partisan process of investing a planned $3.5 trillion in climate change, human capital, and other infrastructure investments not included in the bipartisan package.

In lieu of a concurrent budget resolution, the House adopted a deeming resolution that “deems” a topline 302(a) funding level but does not carry the weight that a full concurrent budget resolution would have. Deeming a topline 302(a) level for discretionary spending allows the House to move forward with providing interim allocations to the House appropriations subcommittees and the writing and marking-up of respective appropriations bills. No such deeming resolution has been adopted in the Senate. Consequently, without a deeming resolution or full concurrent budget resolution, they have not been able to move forward with the appropriations process. 

The House is planning to finalize and pass 10 of the 12 total appropriations bills before the August summer recess, leaving two of the most controversial appropriations bills until a later date. 

The process of the House and Senate passing all 12 appropriations bills and then meddling and passing their chambers bills and sending them to the President’s desk is supposed to culminate and be completed by the end of September. It is highly unlikely that, with Congress in recess for the majority of August, along with ongoing efforts around passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill followed by a partisan budget reconciliation package, they will be able to also finalize all 12 traditional appropriations bills. This will necessitate the passage of a “continuing resolution” which essentially continues appropriations at the same levels as the previous fiscal year, sometimes with small modifications known as anomalies, for a set period of time.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Carousel, Conservation, Energy & Environment, General Interest, Local & Regional Food Systems, Research, Education & Extension

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