Federal Policy, Regional Impact

Annual Appropriations Bill Update

On December 16, President Obama signed into law the annual appropriations bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. This massive, 1,600 page bill contains numerous defeats for sustainable agriculture. These losses are in the form of massive cuts to important programs, as well as so-called “policy riders,” pieces of legislation that direct policy as opposed to funding, and thus don’t really belong in an appropriations bill. However, the bill did contain a few bright spots for programs that support beginning farmers, research, and land conservation. Below is a brief recap of several losses and gains for the bill that impact sustainable agriculture in the Northeast. 

Losses

  • The bill included a policy rider preventing USDA from implanting basic protections for farmers that raise livestock from multinational meat companies. These include fair contract regulations and prohibitions  that preventa companies from pulling a farmer’s contract because the farmer exercises his free speech rights. 
  • The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE), USDA’s only farmer-driven research program, received no funding increases from last year. SARE has become increasingly competitive in the last several years and that will likely continue given this year’s level-funding of $22.7 million.
  • The bill does not fund the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account Program, which would create matched savings programs for beginning agricultural producers.
  • The Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program received no extra funding beyond the $3 million mandated in the Farm Bill, which is not nearly enough to spur badly needed economic development in rural communities.
  • The Value-Added Producer Grant Program, despite its popularity among farmers and cooperatives as a way to support value-added products and increase farm incomes, was funded at $10.75 million, the lower House funding level, in the final bill signed by the President. The Senate had funded this program at $15 million in their bill.
  • The bill made $600 million in cuts to two major working lands conservation programs, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Cuts to CSP were particularly egregious, and will reduce the number of acres able to be enrolled in the program by nearly 25%.

Wins

  • Funding for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which provides funds for conservation easements that help keep land from being developed, was not cut.
  • The Food Safety Outreach Program, a new farmer training program included in the Food Safety Modernization Act, received first-time funding of $2.5 million. 
  • The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, also known as ATTRA, received a small increase to the tune of $2.5 million.
  • Farm Service Agency farm loans received a significant increase, for both direct farm ownership loans to help farmers purchase farmland, and direct operating loans, to cover annual farm operating expenses. 
  • The report accompanying the bill directs USDA to use $2.25 million from the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative to fund a second Organic Production survey, to follow the 2012 Census of Agriculture and the first Organic Production Survey conducted in 2010. The 2010 survey provided much needed data about organic production and marketing, and this second survey will help establish trend data. 

For more information on the Appropriations Bills, read the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s detailed summary of the major sustainable agriculture provisions in the Appropriations bill, as well as their chart of line-by-line funding decisions for sustainable agriculture programs.