Senate subcommittee advances ag approps bill

Full appropriations committee will take up Senate bill on Thursday.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, rural development, food and drug administration and related agencies approved a $147.7 billion appropriations bill to support federal agriculture and nutrition programs in fiscal year (FY) 2017. The full appropriations committee will consider the bill on Thursday.

“The appropriations bill passed out of subcommittee today demonstrates my dedication to strengthening the agriculture economy,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.), chairman of the Senate agriculture appropriations subcommittee. “Our legislation prioritizes funding for agricultural research and food safety efforts, invests in watershed conservation projects to protect natural resources, supports numerous programs to encourage veterans working in agriculture and strengthens our ability to encourage rural development efforts. Giving members of our agricultural community the resources they need to succeed benefits families nationwide who depend on our farms and ranches and are impacted daily by the costs of milk, bread and eggs at the grocery store.”

Specifically, the bill provides $939.3 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, $38 million above the budget request and $44.9 above the 2016 enacted level. The bill includes an increase of $27.2 million for emergency preparedness/response to address capacity shortfalls exposed by the highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak in 2015. Additional increases will help address wildlife damage management issues, initiate workforce development for the National Bio & Agro-Defense Facility, expand activities to combat antibiotic resistance and improve pre-departure inspections of agriculture imports.

The bill provides $19 million more than last year and $3 million more than the budget request for USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service, at $1.033 billion. This is slightly more than the House version, which increased funding by $15 million.

The subcommittee approved $2.54 billion to support agricultural research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food & Agriculture. This amount includes $375 million for the Agriculture & Food Research Initiative, up $25 million from the FY2016 enacted level. Formula research funding for land-grant universities is maintained at FY2016 levels.

The bill provides $864.5 million for Natural Resources Conservation Service funding — $13.6 million above the FY2016 enacted level and $4.1 million over the budget request — for conservation operations to help farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners conserve and protect their land.

The Senate subcommittee left the funding prescribed by the 2014 farm bill intact for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). CSP is a unique program that offers comprehensive conservation assistance to producers who actively manage and expand conservation activities like cover crops, resource-conserving crop rotations, rotational grazing, integrated pest management and advanced nutrient management. The bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee last month seeks to cut FY2017 CSP enrollment by 20%. In FY2015, a similar cut to CSP led to 75% of eligible applicants being turned away from the program due to insufficient funding, according to a statement from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The Senate and House bills both include cuts to mandatory farm bill funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

The Senate bill does not include any “GIPSA rider” pertaining to USDA’s attempt to write rules to support contract livestock and poultry farmers, which was narrowly approved during full committee debate in the House.

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