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Senate appropriations bill passes out of committee

Bill includes boost for agricultural research, APHIS, NRCS, FDA and FSIS.

The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved May 19 the Senate version of the fiscal 2017 Agriculture Appropriations bill. A committee release said discretionary funding levels totaled $21.25 billion, $250 million below the fiscal 2016 enacted level.

A boost in funding is included for: agricultural research ($25 million), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service ($44.9 million), Natural Resources Conservation Service ($13.6 million), Food Safety & Inspection Service ($19 million), and Food & Drug Administration ($39 million).

The $44.9 million increase in funding for the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is for emergency preparedness/response to continue programs to control or eradicate plant and animal pests and diseases.

The bill includes $2.54 billion for ag research through the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA). If this funding level makes it to the finish line, NIFA will have received a 15% increase over the past two fiscal years. Additionally, similar to the House version, the Senate bill increases funding for the Agriculture & Food Research Initiative (AFRI) competitive grants program by $25 million up to $375 million.  

The bill also includes an amendment from Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) that would require USDA to establish a pilot program for the 2016 crop year that would enable state Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices to make supplemental Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program payments in instances where there are significant yield calculation differences in comparable counties. Where such instances arise, within the pilot program, the applicable state FSA office would have an ability to recalculate ARC-County yields for relevant counties based on several specific requirements. 
The bill would also provide $1.5 million for USDA to place Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) employees in the new Cuban embassy. In April, over 60 other agricultural groups, sent a letter to the chair and ranking member of the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, urging them to provide funding for USDA personal to be housed in Cuba. The letter stated that providing USDA boots on the ground in Cuba would help provide opportunities for U.S. agribusinesses, support marketing efforts of U.S. exporters and help the transition of lifting the embargo run more efficiently.

During the markup, the committee considered a number of amendments, including one that would require the labeling of genetically engineered salmon as well as one to ban horse slaughter. 

The Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule, a regulation that would add additional protections for contract and marketing practices in the livestock industry, has been blocked annually in the appropriations process since fiscal 2012. After the amendment was eliminated in the fiscal 2016 appropriations package, the House Appropriations Committee reintroduced the rider last month. It was not included in the Senate version.

There was also speculation that an amendment to block a proposed rule by the National Organic Program that would create animal welfare standards in the organic livestock and poultry industry. The amendment was never brought up.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) was not fully funded, cutting mandatory spending by $303 million in the Senate Appropriations bill. 

Following Committee passage, the legislation would now be slated for floor action sometime in the coming weeks.

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