President Donald Trump Feb. 15 signed an appropriations bill keeping the federal government open through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

This followed passage of the bill by the Senate and the House the day before. The Senate passed the bill, 83 to 16, with the House approving it later in the day 300 to 128.

When Trump signed the bill, he also issued a national emergency declaration dealing with the Mexican border. The money in the bill for border barriers, about $1.4 billion, is far below the $5.7 billion Trump insisted he needed and would finance just a quarter of the more than 200 miles he wanted this year.

 

ELD delay

This package includes a continued electronic logging device delay for livestock and bee haulers until Sept. 30.

Much as it has been, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will not provide any formal documentation because they have not granted the delay, but Congress did.

Alyssa Charney, senior policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said in a statement “We applaud Congress, and in particular the members of the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees, for producing and passing an appropriations bill that continues to advance sustainable agriculture as a priority.

“After enduring months of uncertainty and lapsed program funding resulting from the partial government shutdown, America’s farmers and rural communities are finally going to see long-awaited funding increases for sustainable agriculture programs become reality. NSAC thanks Congress for furthering investments in sustainable agriculture programs and priorities, and we urge the president to sign this funding package into law as soon as possible.”

 

NSAC priorities

The final funding package sets funding levels for each of NSAC’s top appropriations priorities for FY 2019:

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program: $37 million appropriated. This represents a 6 percent increase from FY 2018 and the highest funding level in the program’s 30-year history;

Farm bill conservation programs: No cuts to farm bill conservation programs for the second year in a row, which is critically important in the first year of implementation under the 2018 farm bill;

Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program: $3 million in discretionary funding appropriated in addition to $15 million in farm bill funding provided under the newly established Farming Opportunity Training and Outreach program;

Food Safety Outreach Program: $8 million appropriated. This represents a $1 million (14 percent) increase in funding for farmer food safety training;

Value-Added Producer Grants: $15 million appropriated, plus an additional $2.5 million for technical assistance. This amount is level with FY 2018, and meets NSAC’s request. VAPG is also provided with $17.5 million in FY 2019 under the 2018 Farm Bill’s new Local Agriculture Market Program;

Conservation Operations and Technical Assistance: $819 million appropriated. Combined with $70.8 million in funding that was moved to the business center within USDA’s Farm Production and Conservation mission area, this represents a $15 million increase above last year’s funding levels;

Farm Service Agency Loans: Level funding from FY 2018. NSAC will continue to work to ensure the available funding reflects demand, especially following changes made to loan caps in the 2018 farm bill.

 

Relocation plan

The bill’s report section also includes language directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to submit estimates of costs to move employees of the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of the Washington metropolitan area, and says that Congress supports an “indefinite delay” in the Trump administration’s plans to move the Economic Research Service to the Office of the Chief Economist.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-ME, also introduced a bill to stop the moves.

“The scientific research our food and farming system depends on shouldn’t be dictated by whoever’s in office at the time, nor should be it be hollowed out when we need it the most. The proposed relocation and reorganization of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service unnecessarily threaten the integrity and robustness of their critical work,” Pingree said in a statement.

“My colleagues and I have repeatedly sent this message to the Secretary. Since he’s forging ahead regardless of our feedback—or the concerns of the nation’s agriculture research scientists—this bill is a necessary step.”

The bill has the backing of every Democratic member of the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, as well as several former and current House Agriculture Committee members.

Report language does not have the force of law, however, and it’s thought Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will move forward with his plan. But Perdue told reporters that he would keep Congress informed, and that he considers member of Congress USDA’s “board of directors.”

David Zilberman, president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, said in a statement to The Hagstrom Report in support of the legislation, “Our profession is committed to agricultural and applied economic research, education and outreach that provides decision-makers with high-quality information.

“Maintaining the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the REE (Research, Education and Economics) mission area of USDA, the area which is in charge of scientific integrity, is essential for timely, reliable, and valuable economic science,” he said. “We also find that having the capability to connect with research institutions that span from basic at other agencies to applied at USDA is important for research collaboration and synergies.”

“Additionally, we are heartened by the language in the appropriations bill. As economists, we appreciate increased efficiencies, but efficiency gains have to be informed by planning and uphold integrity of our nation’s information and statistical infrastructure.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or ldreiling@hpj.com.

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