Trump Signs $1.3T Spending Measure

Ag Secretary, Farm Leaders Praise Provisions of Measure Affecting Agriculture

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
The House on Thursday voted 256-167 to approve the bill, which provides $1.3 trillion in appropriations. The Senate followed early Friday by a vote of 65-32. (DTN file photo by Nick Scalise)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- President Donald Trump on Friday signed a $1.3 trillion spending measure, which contains many sections and provisions affecting agriculture and food.

The House on Thursday voted 256-167 to approve the bill, which provides $1.3 trillion in appropriations. The Senate followed early Friday by a vote of 65-32.

Trump signed the legislation after stating earlier on Friday that he was "considering" vetoing the bill over concerns about the program protecting young "Dreamer" immigrants and money for a border wall, the Associated Press reported.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, senators and farm leaders issued statements highlighting the main sections and provisions of the package that affect agriculture and food.

"The omnibus spending plan released last night contains a number of our priorities at USDA," Perdue said.

"Fixing the so-called 'grain glitch' 199A problem is simply an issue of fairness. We should not be picking winners and losers through the federal tax code by favoring one side over another.

"Additionally, improving the way we fund wildfire suppression will help us better manage our forests," Perdue said. "If we ensure that we have adequate resources for forest management, we can mitigate the frequency and severity of future fire seasons."

"Increased support for broadband Internet access is in line with administration goals and will be an important boost as we look to improve the economy in rural America," he said.

"Finally, the omnibus clears away red tape for participants in conservation programs by exempting them from having to obtain SAM and DUNS numbers. These were designed for billion-dollar government contractors, not everyday farmers trying to support their families."

"I thank congressional leaders and I look forward to passage of the omnibus containing these extremely important provisions and other items supporting rural America and agriculture," Perdue said.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he was pleased "we were able to give farmers and ranchers some regulatory relief, as well as ensure funds for wildfire suppression," and praised the bill for including the following provisions related to agriculture and forestry:

-- FARM Act: The Fair Agricultural Reporting Method (FARM) Act exempts air emissions from animal waste from being subject to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) reporting requirements.

-- Animal transport: The omnibus prohibits funding to implement regulations requiring livestock haulers to install electronic logging devices (ELDs) on their trucks to monitor time spent driving. This temporary exemption will allow the livestock industry more time to work with the Department of Transportation to address the unique challenges facing livestock haulers. The livestock sector has been concerned for the welfare of their animals, exposure to potential disease threats, and costs to the industry that will come about should they be required to abide by the ELD regulations.

-- Wildfires: The omnibus provides a solution to address the U.S. Forest Service budget for wildfire suppression and ends the practice of "fire-borrowing," which establishes a fund of more than $2 billion a year, which would increase modestly over a 10-year period. Access to the fund would become available when the cost of wildfires exceeds the 10-year average cost of wildfires, which would be set at the 2015 level. The funding fix will not take effect until fiscal year 2020 meaning current law would remain in effect through fiscal year 2019.

-- Pesticides: Includes extension of current law of Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) through Sept. 30, 2018. The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing and passed a three-year PRIA reauthorization.

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said, "This bipartisan budget bill includes new investments in our small towns and rural communities in Michigan and across the country. These investments will expand high-speed internet access for rural households, hospitals, schools and small businesses, and rebuild rural water infrastructure so our small towns have access to clean drinking water."

North Dakota Sens. John Hoeven, a Republican, and Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, praised the bill for delaying the requirement for electronic logging devices (ELD) for livestock haulers through Sept. 30.

"After requesting this delay in December and receiving several short-term extensions, it is great news for our agriculture industry that implementation of ELD rules for livestock and insect haulers has been pushed to the end of September," Heitkamp said.

"This delay is the action I asked Congress for, and I'll continue to push DOT to provide clear guidance for North Dakotans who haul livestock, perishable produce, or rodeo horses who are concerned about the impact these rules may have on their bottom line and way of life."

Hoeven also praised other provisions in the bill including:

-- ARC Pilot Program: Includes $5 million for Hoeven's Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) pilot program to allow for an alternate calculation method for crop payments when NASS data is insufficient.

-- Rural Broadband: Provides $600 million for a rural broadband pilot grant/loan program targeted to areas that currently lack access to quality broadband services.

-- Rural Water Circuit Rider: Provides nearly $19 million to provide technical expertise and training to rural communities through state based nonprofit organizations through the Rural Circuit Rider program.

-- Agricultural research: Provides an increase of $118.5 million for research through the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Research increases include the Small Grains Genomic Initiative, the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, Pulse Crop Health Initiative and research grants and extension activities at Tribal Colleges.

The National Milk Producers Federation praised the bill for including report language instructing the Food and Drug Administration to enforce labeling standards for plant based foods that NMPF considers to be "dairy imitators."

NMPF said the omnibus language builds on the DAIRY PRIDE Act (DPA), a bipartisan bill introduced last year in both chambers of Congress to compel FDA to act against what NMPF calls "misbranded imitations."

"The language in the congressional budget bill will help ensure action on the matter by FDA after years and years of inaction," said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern.

"This measure is clear and unequivocal that honest labeling matters to Congress and consumers, and that FDA can no longer turn a blind eye toward fake foods that deliberately flout federal standards of identity."

The congressional directive to FDA "will stem the flagrant misuse of the word 'milk' on products that are, by FDA's own definition, not milk nor are made from milk," Mulhern said.

"Real milk is well-known for its strong nutritional contributions, which is why the fake food marketers want so badly to continue using dairy terms on dozens of different plant powder formulations. But these products are pale replicas, not an acceptable substitute for real milk from a nutritional standpoint. This measure will help end the confusion that just co-opting a word somehow makes a food nutritionally equivalent," he said.

American Soybean Association President and Iowa soybean farmer John Heisdorffer noted that the bill includes language requiring transparency and scientific justification by the Defense Logistics Agency before regulating food ingredients in military rations, including soy products.

Additionally, ASA praised:

-- The inclusion of $600 million to launch a pilot loan-and-grant program for deploying broadband in rural America, which adds funding to existing USDA broadband programs.

-- The increased funding levels provided for inland waterways infrastructure and port and harbor maintenance in the Energy & Water Appropriations portion of the Omnibus Appropriations bill.

-- A $400 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which is a $25 million funding increase from last year.


Jerry Hagstrom