IT remains to be seen whether the House and Senate can advance individual appropriation bills, including one for agriculture, ahead of the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. Omnibus bills often get lumped together, or the previous year's spending levels are approved under continuing resolutions.
The House Appropriations Committee advanced its agriculture spending bill on July 8, but some research needs still fall short.
The bill cuts roughly $500 million from the President's request for research activities. Specifically, the bill fails to support the requested increases in critical intramural research areas such as climate change, antimicrobial resistance, pollinator health and agricultural sustainability, President Barack Obama said in a letter addressing concerns with the House proposal.
Funding for the Agriculture & Food Research Initiative — the U.S. Department of Agriculture's largest competitive grants research program — was increased from $325 million to $335 million but is still substantially less than the President's request of $450 million. Overall research and extension funding remained static.
Further, the bill slashes the Administration's request for competitive research grants by approximately $100 million, or 25%, and fails to fund the $80 million requested for public/private partnerships in advanced manufacturing institutes to promote the growth of new jobs and industries in the agriculture and forestry sectors.
Nor does the bill include the $114 million requested to complete a poultry research and biosecurity laboratory in Athens, Ga., that would support research into highly pathogenic avian influenza, Obama wrote.
The National Chicken Council said the $90 million appropriated over the past two years will continue construction and modernization efforts of this vital facility and "will enable USDA scientists to adequately address emerging and exotic poultry diseases."
Many members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, during a hearing July 7 on the avian influenza outbreak, asked how much funding was needed to help combat the disease.
The entire Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service budget is $250 million per year, which USDA's top veterinarian Dr. John Clifford said is inadequate. He could not suggest what number would be the necessary amount but noted, "You get what you pay for." However, as staffing numbers continue to dwindle, it places a strain on the staff to deal with outbreaks when they occur.
Director of the Southeast Poultry Laboratory Dr. David Swayne pleaded with legislators, "Please don't have another sequestration as it will shut us down."
Sequestration, by law, requires the laboratory to shut everything down, and if any experiments are going on, all test subjects have to be euthanized and cultures killed. Sequestration would be devastating to ongoing avian flu research as vaccination studies would have to come to a halt.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made it clear that he's unhappy with the continued budget constraints placed on USDA. Since fiscal 2010, USDA's budget has been reduced 10%. The House bill continues to call for cuts to USDA's overall budget.
Vilsack has said sequestration "is not good policy" and added that Congress can't keep "nickel-and-diming the department and at the same time expect immediate responses" to emergency outbreaks as well as ongoing activities.