Washington Insider--Thursday

Land Grant Cuts in Ag Programs

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Senate GOP Leaders’ Continuing Resolution on Budget

A stopgap funding bill unveiled on Sept. 22 would strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funds for one year and keep the government operating through Dec. 11. It would keep most federal programs essentially running on autopilot. A few exceptions: An additional $700 million in emergency dollars to battle Western wildfires; and $74.76 billion in war funding. The measure would also extend expiring authorizations for the Federal Aviation Administration, the E-Verify program and the Internet Tax Freedom Act.

If Congress does not pass a spending measure before the end of this month, the federal government could go into a shutdown.

The temporary spending bill contains none of the environmental policy riders that had been included in prior iterations of federal spending bills from earlier this year. Earlier versions of an appropriations bill that would have funded the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and other related agencies contained dozens of so-called policy riders that would have reined in the Obama administration’s ability to issue regulations on water jurisdiction, climate change and many other issues.

The stopgap would provide funding at an annual rate of $1.017 trillion, which conforms to the topline discretionary spending limit established by the Budget Control Act for Fiscal 2016, which starts Oct. 1. The Congressional Budget Office confirmed that in its score on Sept. 22.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set up a Sept. 24 cloture vote on an amendment that contains the text of the 10-week Continuing Resolution (CR) with the Planned Parenthood defunding rider, which Democrats are expected to block. That signals possible weekend votes.

Senate GOP Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota expects the clean stopgap funding measure to hit the floor early next week. Eventually it is expected the CR will be a “clean” one, meaning free of any Planned Parenthood language. Meanwhile, the House could vote on a stopgap bill defunding Planned Parenthood on Sept. 24 or 25.

When the initial CR proves it lacks the necessary votes, McConnell then will grapple with when he should move a “clean” CR without the Planned Parenthood language and gain Democratic senators’ support. Democrats slammed the decision to include anti-Planned Parenthood language in a CR as a waste of time, with only eight calendar days remaining until current funding expires.

McConnell put the blame on Democrats for blocking floor consideration of appropriations bills this summer as they objected to the GOP’s underlying spending framework. “The goal of Democrats’ ‘filibuster summer’ was to force Congress back to the brink. They’ve succeeded in doing that,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards has been invited by GOP staff to testify at a House Oversight Committee hearing.

Most observers say it will take House Democratic votes to pass a CR, but it remains to be seen how many of those votes will be needed.


USDA Announces $2.5 Million in Grants Available for Farmer Education

A total of $2.5 million in grants to educate new and underserved farmers about the 20-plus USDA Farm Service Agency programs available were announced by USDA.

The grants range from $20,000 to $100,000 and will be awarded to nonprofits and higher education institutions that submit proposals on topics ranging from financial training to crop production practices.

There will be four evaluation periods with deadlines of Nov. 20, 2015, Jan. 22, 2016, Mar. 18, 2016, and May 27, 2016, USDA said.


Washington Insider: Land Grant Cuts in Ag Programs

In an almost unheard of move, a major land-grant university, the University of Illinois, has told the press it plans to cut-back on off-campus crop research and may shut down several agricultural centers as part of a cost-cutting move tied to flagging state support.

The budget cuts will affect the Brownstown Agronomy Research Center near Vandalia; the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center in southern Illinois; the St. Charles Horticulture Research Center west of Chicago; and the Northern Illinois Agronomy Research Center near DeKalb.

Neal Merchen, associate dean for research at the university's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, said only nine positions will be cut, but only the Dixon Springs center likely will remain open to focus on research involving beef cattle and forestry.

Merchen said the agricultural college expects nearly $4 million less in state money this year, down 7.5%, but following a decade of declining state and federal support for the university. It comes amid the prolonged uncertainty of a fiscal year that lacks a state spending plan nearly three months into its start.

"It's almost strictly a budget-driven decision," Merchen said. "We've managed to process annual reductions in the budget. We simply can't continue to find other places to take these reductions."

University-sponsored crop research will continue on campus and at locations in northwestern Illinois and Pike County.

The field research stations connect university scientists with farmers and commodity groups across Illinois and date back to the 1930s and before, Merchen said. He thinks the program cuts will weaken the university's outreach efforts. "There's a loss of connectedness with stakeholders and farmers in those areas," he said. The affected research stations will finish harvesting this year's crops before going fallow in 2016, according to Merchen. How the idled facilities will be used in the future was not discussed.

Robert Bellm, a University of Illinois Extension agent who oversees the Brownstown farm, said he expects the research center about 75 miles east of St. Louis to shut down in April.

The research farms are "strategically located" in different parts of the state to account for varying soil types, said Bellm, whose job won't be affected by the cuts.

Illinois has long enjoyed an especially prominent position in U.S. agriculture that has been reflected by its broad university ag programs, in spite of the state's largely urban population base.

However, like other large Midwestern universities, Illinois has been pressed to find sources of funding to support the system's growing costs. This has meant increasing pressure on the ag industry to fight efforts to cut ag program spending, economic pressures similar to those being felt in other state systems.

Critics also note this fight has assumed something of an uphill character in recent years as urban-oriented university students and their families and their representatives in the legislatures, have become increasingly suspicious of the factory-farm aspect of modern agriculture and of the advanced technologies that it employs. In addition, the industry's economic success has steadily weakened its claims of need for public support.

In addition, much of the development of ag technologies that once came almost exclusively from universities now are largely provided by private company R&D.

Thus, decisions by the State of Illinois regarding its ag research program appear to be highly complex, reflecting state priorities that are more urban than most. In addition, these can be expected to foreshadow similar decisions at land grants across the nation and to pose severe challenges for ag leaders in terms of finding ways to continue and strengthen links to the land grant research and training system as it increasingly reflects modern urban values, Washington Insider believes.

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