Last night, congressional leaders announced an agreement to fund the government through the remainder of FY 2017 (through September 30, 2017). The full bill text of the agreement can be found here, and the report language for the Agriculture Appropriations bill (which provides explanations and some more details about the funding bill than is in the bill text) can be found here.
The agreement includes $20.877 billion in discretionary spending for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is below the FY 2016 enacted level of $21.75 billion. However, there are several important provisions with implications for wheat:
- The agreement includes an increase of $1.6 billion in farm operating and ownership loan levels from the FY2016 levels to help meet the growing demand for those programs.
- For agricultural research, the bill includes a $25 million increase for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) competitive grants program, and it maintains level funding of $243.701 million for the Hatch Act formula fund program for the land grants and of $300 million for the Smith-Lever Extension program.
- Included is also report language indicating increases in funding for small grains genomic and the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, which have been key priorities for the National Wheat Improvement Committee. The documents that have been released so far do not indicate what the specific funding levels are, though.
- The bill includes a $5 million pilot program for the Agriculture Risk Coverage County program for the 2016 crop year to address disparities in yields between comparable counties in a state. This pilot program would set up an alternate calculation method with Farm Service Agency employees in the state having some flexibility if there is insufficient NASS data in a county or if the available NASS data is significantly disparate.
- McGovern-Dole Food for Education program would be funded at $201.6 million, which is level with FY 2016. The Food for Peace program would be funded at $1.6 million, which is $112 million below the FY 2016 level, and included a onetime increase of $134 million to address famine crises around the world.
- There is $3 million included for the Food and Drug Agency and USDA to promote the acceptance of biotechnology through consumer outreach on “agricultural biotechnology and biotechnology-derived food products and animal feed.”
- For conservation, the overall Conservation Operations account is funded at $864.474 million. The Watershed Rehabilitation program is limited to $9 million and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is limited to $1.35 billion (which is a reduction from the $1.65 billion provided in the farm bill for FY 2017). The bill also includes $4 million for the Water Bank program.
- There had been efforts underway during negotiations to help the cotton and dairy industries, including to designate cottonseed as an oilseed in order to make oilseed eligible for Title 1 assistance, as well as to fix the dairy Margin Protection Program. Those provisions were not included; however, there was report language included directing the secretary of agriculture to issue a report within 60 days providing outlining administrative actions and legislative fixes that could be made to help cotton producers and directing USDA to take administrative actions to help dairy producers.