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What does the President’s budget mean for agriculture?

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GOVERNMENT SPENDING: President Biden unveiled his $6 trillion budget to Congress on May 28 that makes additional investments in climate-smart agriculture spending and rural broadband.
Farm bill and crop insurance funding maintained while some additional funds offered for rural broadband and climate-smart ag practices.

The Biden administration released its $6 trillion budget request to Congress, following up on his “skinny budget” he sent earlier this spring. Although the President’s budget is normally dead on arrival on Capitol Hill, it does offer an important place marker for the president this year as he and the Democratic Party attempt to pass many of their priorities as outlined in the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan possibly through the reconciliation process.

The document is not binding and merely outlines the President’s spending priorities. However, presidential budgets do influence annual appropriations spending and can influence budget reconciliation instructions.

Fortunately for agriculture, based on a preliminary read of budget documents, there appear to be no cuts slated for the farm bill or crop insurance. Senate and House Democratic budget leaders will release their budgets in the near future and, once approved by each chamber, will be reconciled into one budget from which Democratic Party lawmakers may look to commence another budget reconciliation process whereby they can pass an infrastructure bill on party line votes in both chambers, bypassing the 60-vote requirement in the Senate.

The detailed proposal for FY 2022 (October 1, 2021 – September 30, 2022) contains a significant increase in funding for USDA – nearly $4 billion in additional spending (+16.7%) that closely aligns with the president’s vision for major investments in infrastructure and jobs, outlined in the draft budget released earlier this year. 

Related: Ag industry mixed on Biden’s infrastructure plan

Conservation and climate change is a focus of the administration’s budget with modest new funding dedicated to helping farmers adapt to and mitigate climate change. This includes $300 million in new funding for climate and conservation programs, on-farm net-zero energy production and the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps. 

“The President’s budget gives USDA a new set of tools to address the urgent challenges of our time—racial injustice, a changing climate, and hunger. When we invest fairly and equitably in American families and communities, we lay the foundation for decades of American prosperity,” says Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

According to the USDA, the agency notes the budget would expand broadband access, support a strong nutrition safety net, offer additional funds to mitigate the climate and conserve lands and invest in critical research and development capacity for farmers.

Building on the $100 billion of funding proposed in the American Jobs Plan, the President’s budget requests $700 million for Reconnect to provide access to quality broadband to rural residents and address challenges for Tribal communities. “High-speed internet would serve as an economic equalizer for rural America while creating high-paying union jobs in rural America,” USDA says.

Related: Vilsack outlines ag priorities to appropriators

American farmers must be able to compete in world markets to thrive, all while protecting the health of America’s soil and water. This request provides $4 billion for USDA’s research, education, and outreach programs focused on making investments in agricultural research to put science and data-driven tools and American technologies in the hands of farmers. “We need to equip America’s farmers to out-compete the world,” USDA says.

Research and extension programs would receive considerable new investments, with both the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension program receiving full funding of $700 million (+$265 million) and $60 million (+$20 million) while other integrated activities like the Organic Research and Extension Initiative saw more modest increases (+$4 million). The budget would provide significant support for climate science research at the Agricultural Research Service, Economic Research Service and the new Advanced Research Projects Agency Climate.

“Research and extension is a particularly bright spot in the President’s budget, which calls for major new investments in research to address the effects of the changing climate, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and the systemic discrimination that affects our food system. This is the surest sign that USDA wants to “build back better” to a more resilient and equitable food system in the years to come,” says Eric Deeble, policy director for the National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition.  

The budget increases funding for climate smart agriculture, climate resilience and clean energy by nearly $1.5 billion. This funding supports effective land management decisions and partnerships with local communities and Tribal Nations to address climate adaptation, conservation, and ecological resilience. This work will address the underlying conditions of drought that are leading to longer, hotter fire seasons.

Across all the agencies, the budget includes major new climate change investments—an increase of more than $14 billion compared to 2021—across nearly every agency to: restore the critical capacity needed to carry out their core functions and to take a whole-of-government approach to tackling climate change; secure environmental justice for communities that have been left behind through the largest direct investment in environmental justice in history; and help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change, the fact sheet says.

Within the conservation portfolio, the president’s FY22 budget proposes a funding level of $886 million for conservation operations, a $50 million increase to the account that funds conservation planning and technical assistance. The budget requests $774 million for the conservation technical assistance program within conservation operations.

The National Association of Conservation Districts applauded the additional funding for Conservation Operations, which funds Conservation Technical Assistance. NACD President Michael Crowder says, “This program helps put boots on the ground in our communities to deliver locally-led conservation where it’s needed most.”

The budget also proposes $2.1 billion in mandatory budget increases over 10 years through different legislative proposals, which would need to be enacted by Congress: 

  • Increase adoption of net-zero agriculture technology in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The estimated costs over four years are $400 million (2022 through 2025).
  • Increase Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations by $100 million per year. The estimated costs over 10 years are $1 billion.
  • Increase Environmental Quality Incentives Program by $50 million per year for technology to increase drought resilience for agricultural producers. The estimated costs over 10 years are $500 million.
  • Increase adoption of net-zero agriculture technology in the Healthy Forests Reserve Program. The estimated costs over four years are $200 million (2024 through 2027).

“Enacting the budget policies into law this year would strengthen our nation’s economy and lay the foundation for shared prosperity, while also improving our nation’s long-term fiscal health,” says Vilsack.

“I applaud the focus within President Joe Biden’s budget on important investments in rural America and our food systems, particularly in rural broadband,” says House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott. “I appreciate the focus on how USDA can best work with farmers and ranchers to implement climate smart practices and the research dollars targeted to ensure that our ag and forestry producers and rural communities can adapt to climate change. I am also happy to see urban agriculture as a priority in this budget and the specific steps taken to ensure these producers can utilize and access USDA programs.”

On the Senate side, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow says the president's budget is a positive step forward for farmers and rural America. “It calls for more investment in agriculture research, funding for high-speed internet, and resources to help families get more healthy food. I’ll also continue to push for additional investments that build on the president’s commitment to climate-smart agriculture,” Stabenow says.

TAGS: Policy
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