The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved FY-2012 legislation to fund discretionary agriculture and nutrition spending programs. The bill would provide $19.8 billion in discretionary spending, compared with the $17.2 billion contained in the House-passed bill. The Senate provided additional funding for emergency food assistance through P.L. 480 title II for the famine in the Horn of Africa.
Funding the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative is provided at $266 million, up slightly from last year’s level. Conservation programs were cut by $726 million spread across several programs and about half coming from Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The bill also substantially reduces the salaries and expense budgets for the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development Agency.
However, Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the Ranking Member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, says that agricultural research was something he fought to keep.
"I tried to create a real priority for agricultural research that individual farmers and individual states would not able to do on their own," Blunt said. "We were able to keep ag research generally at level funding, which in this kind of budget year is actually a real accomplishment."
Also, the legislation includes full funding of $200 million for the Market Access Program and $34.5 million for the Foreign Market Development Program, as authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill. These levels are consistent with the House version of the legislation that was passed in June.
The inclusion of funding for MAP and FMD was welcome news for the American Soybean Association and the U.S. soybean industry. ASA annually garners about $12 million from these two programs to promote $23 billion worth of U.S. soybean and soy product exports. Earlier this year, ASA CEO Steve Censky testified before a House Agriculture Subcommittee that these programs have been tremendously successful and extremely cost-effective in helping expand a wide variety of U.S. exports.
Meanwhile, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson is happy a rider will not be included in the budget bill that would prevent the implementation of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule. Johnson credits Senator Herb Kohl, D-Wis., saying Kohl has always been a champion of market competition and fairness.
"The Senate Committee did the right thing in allowing the GIPSA rule to proceed," Johnson said. "The rule will go a long way towards restoring market competition and helping ensure large producers cannot exert illegal market power over farmers and ranchers." The NFU leader added that the rule will help reduce the concentration that has taken place in the livestock industry over the past 30 years.