What's in the Approps Bill for Agriculture?

An in-depth look at what the whopper of an omnibus spending bill does for agriculture.

Congress came together and approved a whopper of an appropriations bill, lumping together 12 appropriations bills for various spending categories—including agriculture, energy and water.

The bill marks the first comprehensive spending proposal for the federal government since the 2012 omnibus spending bill. The federal government has since been running on piecemeal funding bills.

The package includes discretionary funding of $20.9 billion for USDA and FDA, an increase of $350 million or 7% over 2013 levels after the sequester. (Read the agriculture summary of some of the important funding allocations in the bill.)

But when it boils down to it, what will you see differently now that this is signed into law?

For one, farmers will once again have access to a series of NASS reports that were discontinued due to the sequester and begin compilation of several Current Industrial Reports formerly conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. This includes the “Fats and Oils: Oilseed Crushings (M311J)” and “Fats and Oils: Production, Consumption, and Stocks (M311K)” reports.

The new appropriations bill does not include any provision to spend any of the potential proceeds of the conservation user fee included as part of the congressional budget deal reached in December. Conservation funding escaped major cuts as it provides $826 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, virtually the same as the fiscal year 2013 enacted level. The bill does limit funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to $1.35 billion from its farm bill funding level of $1.75 billion.

The legislation provides $1.5 billion for the Farm Service Agency, which is equal to the fiscal year 2013 enacted level. This funding will support the various farm, conservation, loan, and emergency programs for American farmers and ranchers, including loan authorizations in excess of $5.5 billion for farm ownership, farm operating, conservation and emergency loans.

It also provides another stamp of approval for the construction of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan., to replace Plum Island in New York, receiving $404 million for the year.

The bill does not reflect the President’s budget request to move the Food for Peace grants to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Currently the program donates U.S. agricultural commodities to alleviate hunger during emergencies, and many commodity groups had sought this approach to food aid rather than changing to more cash donations. (Read more here.)

Waterways victories

The bill’s Energy & Water section includes provisions that will significantly increase funding for waterways components. These provisions are strongly supported by the American Soybean Association and have been priorities for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the authorization bill that is currently in conference committee.

Under the bill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction General Account receives $1.6 billion and revises the FY14 cost-sharing formula for the Olmsted Lock & dam project to 75% General Funds and 25% from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF). Currently the cost-share is split evenly and has resulted in the Olmsted project consuming nearly all of the IWTF funds. The revised cost share will free up $81.5 million for other projects that have been delayed because of Olmsted’s cost overruns.

Another victory for ASA comes in the form of a significant increase in spending for port and navigation channel improvements, funded out of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). The bill provides $1 billion from the HMTF for port and navigation channel maintenance and dredging. The HMTF collects approximately $1.6 billion annually and in past years only about half has been provided for actual harbor maintenance, with the rest diverted to general government purposes. ASA has consistently advocated to free up money from the IWTF and increase the amounts from the HMTF that go toward port maintenance and dredging.

Report language

As one of the few must-pass legislations each year, often language gets included in appropriations bill that allows for Congress to state their intent on different matters and this year was no different.

Some notable to agriculture include a provision that again prevents the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Grain Inspection, Stockyards and Packers Administration (GIPSA) from finalizing regulations related to contracts for livestock and poultry growers. The rider does not include the forced withdrawal of the rules that have already been finalized by USDA, but it does block additional rulemaking consistent with past appropriations bill.

The bill would also reinstate a ban on horse slaughter, just when it seemed it may start up again. The new defunding language contains not only defunding, but also a stipulation that funding not be restored until and unless the Food and Drug Administration makes a determination that meat from American horses can be made safe to enter the food supply. Defunding language was passed by both the House and the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committees in 2013 with super majorities, but neither budget reached the floor for a full vote.

The omnibus package also includes language addressing mandatory country-of-origin labeling (MCOOL), expressing the sense of Congress that the May 23 rule from USDA on meat labeling does not meet U.S. trade obligations under the World Trade Organization and should be changed. While the MCOOL language is helpful and puts USDA on notice that Congress is not satisfied with its approach, it is non-binding and does not force USDA to take action.

Ashley Lyon McDonald, National Cattlemen's Beef Association environmental counsel, said the omnibus spending bill will prohibit EPA from requiring livestock operations to obtain permits for emissions of greenhouse gases as well as prohibit the agency from requiring the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.

It doesn't however address the ban on the enforcement of the Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule for farms and a provision that would prohibit EPA from releasing producers’ personal information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The omnibus appropriations bill includes report language, submitted by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), which would prevent the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) from expanding its regulatory oversight onto farms with fewer than 10 employees. The report language is in response to a 2011 OSHA memo stating certain traditional farm activities would be under OSHA’s regulatory jurisdiction going forward.

Johanns received another win with the inclusion of language requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to give a full account of its aerial surveillance program of agricultural operations. The language requires EPA to submit a report on the appropriations committees within 180 days that identifies where the flyovers took place, how much they cost and how many were conducted for the last ten years.

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