House Ag Subcommittee passes FY ’18 ag appropriations
The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee passed its Fiscal Year 2018 agriculture appropriations bill which provides a total of $144.9 billion in both mandatory and discretionary funding for USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. This is $4.6 billion above President Trump’s proposed budget request. The subcommittee rejected any of the administration’s requests to eliminate various USDA programs. The bill provides $20 billion in discretionary funding, which is $876 million below FY ’17 or approximately a 5% reduction. The bill includes:
- Agriculture research: Provides $2.8 billion for agriculture research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. President Trump requested approximately $2.3 billion for these programs.
- Research facilities: Rejects the administration’s proposal to close 17 ARS laboratories.
- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: Includes $906 million which is $96 million above the president’s request and $40 million below last fiscal year’s level.
- Farm programs: Provides $1.6 billion for farm programs which will continue support for various farm, conservation and emergency loan programs. The bill provides funding for full staffing at local Farm Service Agency offices and meets demand for estimated farm loan programs.
- Conservation: Provides $904 million, including $45 million for infrastructure rehabilitation to help small communities meet current safety standards for watershed projects.
- International and trade programs: Provides full funding for the two trade promotion programs that help with expanding and preserving U.S. agricultural exports — Foreign Market Development Program is funded at $34.5 million and the Market Access Program is funded at $200 million. The president’s budget proposed eliminating these programs. The bill contains $1.4 billion for “Food for Peace” and 185 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program. These programs were to be eliminated in the administration’s proposed budget.
- SNAP: Provides $73.6 billion in required mandatory funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). This is $4.87 billion below last year’s level because of fewer recipients using the program and lower food costs.
- Child nutrition: Includes $24.28 billion in mandatory funding for child nutrition programs, including school breakfast, school lunch and Summer Food Service Program.
- Food Safety and Inspection Service: Provides $1.038 billion for food safety and inspection programs which is an increase of $6 million above FY ’17. The committee rejected the administration’s proposal for user fees for meat and poultry inspection services.
- Rural development: Provides $2.6 billion for rural development programs, including $1.25 billion for rural water and waste program loans that the president’s budget proposed eliminating.
The House Appropriations Committee is expected to consider the bill on July 12. As the House Appropriations Committee is considering the various FY ’18 spending bills, the House Budget Committee Republicans are trying to finalize the FY ’18 budget. Under consideration is $200 billion in cuts to mandatory programs, including farm programs and SNAP to help pay for increased defense spending.
Ag groups urge Trump to fill top USDA positions
A growing concern throughout the federal government is the slow rate the Trump administration is filling key positions in all of the federal departments and agencies. USDA currently has 13 key positions that will need Senate confirmation that have not even been named. These include the deputy secretary of Agriculture, undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Programs, undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, undersecretary for Food Safety, undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment and general counsel. A group of 16 agricultural organizations sent a letter to President Trump urging him to move quickly to fill key USDA appointments. With a struggling farm economy, the organizations say USDA needs leaders and decision makers to serve farmers, ranchers and consumers. In a letter to the president, they say, “We applaud you for picking such a strong secretary of agriculture in Sonny Perdue. We have the utmost faith that he will continue to do an outstanding job serving your administration and our nation. But he can’t do it alone. The absence of high-ranking officials at USDA puts our farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage. It is impossible to pilot such a large and complex agency without a team of powerful and talented people at the helm.” Those signing the letter include National Corn Growers Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union.
EPA moves to rescind WOTUS
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are moving forward to officially rescind the highly controversial Waters of the U.S. rule. The EPA is officially proposing a rule to rescind the WOTUS regulation. There will be a 30-day comment period on the proposed rule. This announcement by the EPA received high praise from the agriculture community. The AFBF says, “It was a federal land grab designed to put a straightjacket on farming and private businesses across this nation. That’s why our federal courts blocked it from going into effect for the past two years.”
The NPPC praises the administration for its action and says WOTUS was “the product of a flawed regulatory process that lacked transparency and likely would have been used by trial lawyers and environmental activists to attack farmers.” The NCBA says, “This is another great step in the right direction, and the administration deserves a great deal of credit for injecting some much-needed common sense into our nation's environmental policies.”
The environmental community was not pleased with the announcement. The National Wildlife Federation says, “Every American should be able to turn on the tap and get clean, safe drinking water. The president campaigned on the promise of ‘crystal clear water.’ The best way to make that promise a reality is to prevent pollution in the first place. Today’s hasty and haphazard repeal would do just the opposite. It disrespects the broad public support and strong legal and scientific basis for the Clean Water Rule, and it fails to provide the clarity inherent in the rule.”
USDA stops Brazilian beef shipments
USDA announced it was suspending all imports of fresh beef from Brazil because of recurring concerns about the safety of the product. Since March, USDA’s FSIS has been inspecting 100% of all meat products arriving in the United States from Brazil. FSIS has rejected 11% of the Brazilian shipments due to public health concerns, sanitary conditions and animal health issues. The rejection rate for shipments from the rest of the world is 1%. The suspension of shipments will remain in place until the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture takes corrective action which the USDA finds satisfactory.