Ag Funding Bill Advances

Legislation Cuts Conservation, Boosts Rural Development

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
The House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee approved a fiscal year 2017 bill to fund USDA, FDA, CFTC and the Farm Credit Administration. (DTN file photo by Nick Scalise)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the American Soybean Association have praised the fiscal year 2017 agriculture appropriations bill for several provisions but criticized it for once again cutting conservation programs.

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday approved a fiscal year 2017 bill to fund the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Farm Credit Administration.

The vote was by voice with the lone dissent appearing to be Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

The bill followed the pattern of recent years with cuts to some mandatory conservation programs to fund committee discretionary priorities.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), which represents small, environmentally minded-farmers, praised increases in the value-added producer grants program and the appropriate technology transfer for rural areas program, and praised increased funding for the direct farm operating loan program and ag research.

But NSAC said it was disappointed the sustainable agriculture research and education program, was funded at its existing level rather than increased by $5.3 million to $30 million as requested by USDA.

Also, "despite a plea from 252 food and agriculture groups not to reopen the farm bill," the NSAC said, the 2017 Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) sign-up is cut by 20%, reducing its total farm bill baseline funding by over $300 million, and the 2017 Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) sign-up is cut by $113 million, plus a $98 million permanent rescission of earlier year EQIP funding.

That combination of cuts in turn also automatically reduces the farm-bill funding available for the Resource Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) by $46.5 million for 2017, since RCPP funding is drawn in large part from CSP and EQIP funding, NSAC said.

The American Soybean Association said it is "concerned with a litany of cuts to conservation programs authorized in the farm bill."

But ASA praised $3 million set aside for outreach and education on agricultural biotechnology as "a step in the right direction."

Total funding under the bill including mandatory farm and nutrition spending is $147 billion, while the discretionary allocation is $21.3 billion, $451 million below the enacted fiscal year 2016 level and $181 million below the president's request.

The bill leaves the funding level for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) flat at $250 million, which was a matter of criticism by Democrats.

Following the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial services reform bill, the CFTC's responsibilities have grown seven times, Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., said, noting that the Obama administration had requested $80 million more for the agency.

"Someday we are going to have a crisis," said Farr. "If we continue to try to starve it, it won't be able to do its job."

Farr, who is retiring from Congress after this year, also said in an opening statement that Congress should re-establish earmarks because "rural America cannot survive without them."

In other areas, the bill also provides $10 million for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to monitor the use of antibiotics on farms. Industries that use antibiotics in farm animals joined together with critics of their use to ask for more money for monitoring.

The House bill does not contain any language that would require USDA to declare cottonseed an oilseed, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., told reporters afterward. Cotton producers and members of the House Agriculture Committee have been pushing USDA to make such a change, which would allow cotton producers to collect Price Loss Coverage payments on oilseed.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., wrote a letter to congressional leaders on Wednesday suggesting they fear appropriators will attempt to insert such a provision in the Agriculture appropriations bill.

Aderholt also told DTN the USDA has not satisfied his concerns about the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, for which funds were restricted last year after a New York Times investigation of the treatment of animals. But Aderholt and an aide both said APHIS is in the "process" of completing its inspection of the center.

In his opening statement, Aderholt emphasized that the subcommittee also has not gone along with the Obama administration's proposals to cut rural development programs.

"We have ensured funding for such programs as the mutual and self-help housing program, the business and industry loan program, the water and waste disposal program including technical assistance and the circuit rider program," Aderholt said.

"The bill maintains funding levels for the community facility loans and rural utility service electric loans and safeguards that lending is driven by the needs of the borrower. We also provide the necessary funding for the Rental Assistance program to serve very low income residents."

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., also praised the bill for funding the rural development programs, which he noted has gone up one third since 2013.

Farr said he had concerns about the bill, but "they are minor compared with what the bill accomplishes."

Still, Farr said the bill does not provide enough money for the FDA or the CFTC and that he was concerned the U.S. Agency for International Development was not given enough flexibility to buy non-U.S. food for its food aid programs.

U.S. food aid, Farr said, "has become the most expensive food in the world," and low-income countries cannot develop an agricultural base "as long as there is food coming from somewhere else."

DeLauro was more outspoken in her criticism. She praised the bill for providing "sufficient funding for hunger programs," but said it provides too little for the CFTC and the FDA. DeLauro also said she does not like provisions that attempt to stamp out waste, fraud and abuse in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) but not in crop insurance.

Aderholt also told reporters he would not be surprised to see amendments on a ban on inspection of horse slaughter facilities, which is not included in the bill this year and on the regulation of cigars and E-cigarettes.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at talk@dtn.com

(CC/CZ)

Jerry Hagstrom