IN his budget request to Congress April 10, President Barack Obama proposed roughly the same amount of discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as in 2012, at $22.6 billion.
His budget calls for $37.8 billion in agency cuts over 10 years by eliminating direct farm payments, decreasing crop insurance subsidies and targeting conservation programs.
The direct farm payments and conservation programs have been easy targets for Congress' budget reforms, but the crop insurance subsidies will be a harder sell on Capitol Hill and for farm groups that oppose the changes. Last year, the Senate proposed $23 billion in farm program cuts, and the House proposed $35 billion in savings.
The fiscal 2014 budget includes several legislative proposals to reduce the premium subsidies farmers receive on their crop insurance policies (Figure).
Specifically, Obama is calling for a 3% reduction in the subsidy for producer premiums under policies where the government subsidizes more than 50% of the premium (previous proposals reduced these by only 2%). This is expected to save $4.2 billion over 10 years.
"The reduced premium levels will still provide a reasonable level of subsidy to the farmer but not be overly generous, and the safety net will remain intact," the budget summary notes.
The proposal would reduce the premium subsidy by 2% for revenue coverage that provides protection for price increases at harvest time. The summary explains that this de-emphasizes insuring price protection on the futures markets in favor of insuring expected returns for the actual crop at the time of planting. The proposal is expected to save $3.2 billion over 10 years.
"As many farmers still struggle to recover from the worst drought in generations, now is not the time to make such a deep cut to the federal crop insurance program," said Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Assn.
The budget proposal invests $1.3 billion in so-called "high-priority areas," including beginning farmers, bioenergy, specialty crops and organic agriculture. It calls for a $4 billion investment in renewable and clean energy and environmental improvements.
Obama's budget also proposes to extend selected livestock disaster assistance programs for 2014-18.
The budget reflects estimated savings to be realized through the modernization of poultry slaughter inspection as part of USDA's efforts to focus Food Safety & Inspection Service inspection activities on tasks that advance its core food safety mission.
The blueprint calls for increasing funding for USDA's Agriculture & Food Research Initiative to $383 million and targets key areas for U.S. scientific leadership: human nutrition and obesity, food safety, bioenergy, sustainable agriculture and climate change.
Kansas legislators have continued to push for a pledge to build the National Bio & Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) at the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan, Kan. The President's budget included $714 million to house NBAF, which will focus on the nation's plant and animal health priorities. Issues with funding and approvals have held up the project for years.
"The real work to complete NBAF begins as we continue to fight to ensure that this $714 million in funding is appropriated to advance construction of NBAF in Manhattan and achieve this critical national security goal," Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said.
The budget also calls for the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to impose a $1 per animal unit month increase in the grazing fee to cover administrative costs.
Dustin Van Liew, executive director of the Public Lands Council and director of federal lands for the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn., said the proposal came as no surprise and repeats last year's call to increase the fees.
"The current grazing fee is fair. In fact, most public lands ranchers already pay market price for their federal forage, when considering factors such as added regulatory costs, increased predation, ownership and maintenance of water rights and improvements and the difficulties of managing livestock in rough, arid rangelands," Van Liew said.
Obama did request nearly $300 million less than last year for the Environmental Protection Agency's budget, at $8.153 billion.
The budget includes $60 million for E-Enterprise, an initiative that will enable EPA to begin developing tools and expanding systems designed to reduce the reporting burden and provide EPA and state regulators with easier access to and use of environmental data.
EPA is proposing $176.5 million for its work with partners and stakeholders to provide information and tools to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
These funds will be used to support reducing emissions in the U.S. and abroad through careful, cost-effective rule-making and voluntary programs that focus on the largest entities while also encouraging businesses and consumers to limit unnecessary GHG emissions.
EPA is requesting an increase of $15 million in Clean Water Act Section 106 Water Pollution Control grant funding to support states, interstate agencies and tribes that commit to strengthening their nutrient management efforts.