Ag budget request similar to previous years

Proposed cuts to crop insurance and new food safety agency likely dead on arrival.

Monday President Barack Obama sent his funding requests for the 2016 fiscal year to the Republican-led Congress, offering few new ideas and offering many similar ideas he’s proposed in past years that have been dead on arrival.

Overall, the budget provides $25 billion in discretionary resources, an increase of about $0.8 billion above the 2015 enacted level.

The President again proposed to reform crop insurance subsidies. Currently crop insurance costs the government an average of $9 billion a year, with $3 billion provided to private insurance companies to administer and underwrite and $6 billion in premiums to farmers. The Budget includes two proposals to reform crop insurance.

The first would reduce subsidies for revenue insurance policies that insure the price at the time of harvest. The second would reform prevented planting coverage, including adjustments to payment rates. “These proposals will modify the structure of the crop insurance program so that it is less costly to the taxpayer, yet still provides a safety net for farmers. Collectively, these proposals are expected to save $16 billion over 10 years,” a fact sheet said.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) criticized the crop insurance reform proposals. “The President’s ill-timed proposal on crop insurance would jeopardize the ability of producers to insure their crops in a climate of collapsing crop prices, major crop losses, and falling farm income,” he said.

The Budget provides $450 million (an increase of $125 million over the 2015 enacted level) for the nation’s premier competitive, peer-reviewed research program for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences. Investments would be targeted at Presidential initiatives such as pollinator health, combatting anti-microbial resistant bacteria, and biobased products.

The Budget also includes $80 million to support two multidisciplinary institutes, with one dedicated to advanced biomanufacturing while the other will focus on development of nanocellulosics (nanomaterials derived from plant sources) to ensure that the United States is the leading source of commercial cellulosic nanomaterials research, innovation, production, and commercialization.

The Budget also funds a new competitive grant program at land-grant institutions that will address critical food and agricultural challenges at regional and national scales. Additional funding for in-house research will focus on adaptation areas such as to climate change vulnerability and resilience, sustainable small farms, vertical farming, improving pollinator health, combatting antimicrobial resistance, and increasing the speed and effectiveness of crop and animal breeding.

The White House said the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria represents a serious threat to public health and the economy and fighting it is a national security priority. As part of a coordinated Federal strategy, the Budget includes an increase of about $57 million to address antimicrobial resistance in pathogens of humans and livestock, and to seek answers to key questions about the relationships among microbes and livestock, the environment, and human health.

The President has also suggested creating a new agency for food safety. “Unfortunately, this Administration’s track record of increasing regulations and growing the Federal bureaucracy remains consistent in this budget request. In this tough economy, the last thing producers and consumers need is more red tape,” said Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.)

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition criticized the President’s proposal to slash conservation funding. “Just four days short of the one-year anniversary of the President signing the 2014 Farm Bill, the President now proposes to cut $859 million from the 2014 Farm Bill Conservation Title, including 3 million acres from the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) in FY 2016 alone, which represents a five-year cut in farm bill mandatory spending of $486 million according to the White House. The budget request also includes a $373 million cut to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for FY 2016,” said NSAC policy director Ferd Hoefner.

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