Ag Appropriations Bill Retains USDA Funding

The president’s budget proposal for USDA discretionary spending earlier this year once again called for cuts to funding critical to agriculture in the MonDak. Once again, however, it appears as though funding for the programs will be preserved by language in the Senate’s ag appropriations bill.

The bill largely ignores President Donald Trump’s proposal earlier this year, which would have cut USDA discretionary spending by 16 percent, quashed loans and grants for rural water infrastructure and housing and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers using conservation practices on land.

Crop insurance subsidies would also have been reduced from 62 to 48 percent, saving $26 billion over 10 years.

The 55,000-acre Miles City Montana cattle research center was once again slated for closure by Trump’s proposed budget. The Montana center is home to the famous, Line 1 Hereford herd, which has helped lead research discoveries into beef cattle for decades and is responsible for much of what is known about cattle genetics in the United States.

And funding for agriculture research would also have been a few hundred million less than what was enacted by Congress, a potential blow to the Sidney USDA-ARS unit, which conducts critical research into pests such as wheat stem sawfly and fusarium head blight, as well as many other areas that are of critical concern to both sides of the MonDak.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said that by working across the aisle, he was able to include specific language in the bill that will protect funding for the Miles City research center, as well as for the USDA-ARS unit in Sidney.

“When we invest in our farmers and our infrastructure, we see big returns to Montana’s economy,” Tester said. “This is further proof that when Republicans and Democrats work together, good things get done.”

Sen. John Hoeven, chairman of the Ag Appropriations Committee, said the bill provides strong support for agriculture and includes a number of measures that he worked on.

“This bill makes responsible investments in farm service programs, agriculture research and rural development programs to reaffirm our commitment to growing rural America,” he said.

Hoeven was able to work into the bill a measure allowing an alternate calculation method for Area Risk Coverage whenever data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service is insufficient, as well as language prohibiting the closure of any Farm Service Agency county office. In fact, additional funding is in the bill to hire more FSA loan officers, as well as fully funding the expected demand for farm direct and guaranteed and emergency loans.

He also lists $2.726 billion in the bill to support agricultural research by the Agriculture Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. That line item includes $1 million in funding to ARS for various research initiatives, among them pulse crop health initiatives, chronic wasting disease, sugarbeets, alfalfa research and small grain genomics.

Funding for UAS precision agriculture is maintained at $3 million, and at $8.7 milion for the U.S. Wheat and Barley scab initiative.

Heitkamp also had praise for the bill, and said it was a good indicator that bipartisanship on the Farm Bill appears likely in the Senate at least.

“Passing an agriculture appropriations bill out of committee with a strong investment in the safety net for our farmers and ranchers and investments in research is a positive step forward,” she said. “This bill adequately supports programs that help our agriculture producers through low commodity prices, drought, and other challenges, and offers hope that bipartisan work on the next Farm Bill can continue in a timely manner. I fought against the administration’s deep cuts to the farm safety net and worked to advance a farm budget that puts the needs of our rural communities first.”

Source: Renée Jean, Williston Herald

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