On June 16th, the House of Representatives narrowly passed H.R. 2112, the agriculture appropriations bill for FY 2012. The bill was approved by a vote of 217 – 203, with no Democrats supporting the bill and 19 Republicans voting against passage. Democrats were critical of the legislation and argued that the cuts made in the bill go too far and would have sweeping negative impacts on the Department of Agriculture. The bill reduces discretionary spending by $2.7 billion (about 13 percent) from last year’s level, including significant reductions in funds for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Agriculture Research Service (ARS). Funding for NIFA was reduced by approximately $194 million from 2011, including a reduction of approximately $35 million to the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The ARS budget was cut by approximately $140 million from last year’s level.
During floor consideration there were a number of amendments that would have significantly cut funding for research even further. For example, Rep. Chaffetz of Arizona offered an amendment to reduce funding for the Economic Research Service by $43 million; reduce funding for the National Agricultural Statistics Service by $85 million; reduce funding for salaries and expenses of the Agricultural Research Service by $650 million and reduce funding for Food For Peace Title II Grants by $1,040,198,000. The $1.8 billion in spending decreases would have been applied to the to the savings reduction account. Another amendment, offered by Rep. Jackson Lee of Texas, would have transferred $681 million from ARS to the Women, Infants and Children program. While there were a few minor amendments moving money into and out of research accounts, none of the amendments that would have dramatically reduced research funding were approved.
Even as Congress deliberates future cuts in funding for NIFA and ARS, the impacts of recent reductions in funding for agriculture research are already being felt. USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, Cathy Woteki addressed a Hill seminar sponsored by the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research on June 6th and discussed the budget challenges facing USDA. Dr. Woteki stated that the fiscal year 2011 Continuing Resolution was having severe impacts on USDA’s research programs. She explained how the spending cuts are causing the cancellation of construction projects, closing of up to 10 ARS facilities, and may lead to possible layoffs of Department personnel. Cuts like those included in the House passed version of the agriculture appropriations bill will only make things that much tougher for USDA’s research agencies.
Action on agriculture appropriations now moves to the Senate, where the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee continues work to draft its version of FY 2012 spending for agriculture programs. FASS and the other founding societies will continue to actively work with coalitions such as the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Coalition to communicate the value of investment in agriculture research as the budget process moves forward.
Proceedings from the FASS Sponsored Agriculture, Food, Nutrition and Natural Resources Research and Development Roundtable have recently been published are now available on-line by clicking here. The Roundtable was held on March 15, 2011 and focused on the value of collaborative research and development in the agricultural sciences. A webcast of the event is also available by clicking here.
The FASS Scientific Advisory Committee on Food Safety, Animal Health and Animal Drugs held its annual Spring Symposium on June 6th. The event was held at the offices of the American Farm Bureau Federation. FASS Washington Representatives assisted in the development of the agenda and helped secure speakers from federal agencies, Congress and industry. Over 50 people attended this year’s symposium. A copy of the symposium agenda can be found at: http://www.fass.org/page.asp?pageID=409
FASS Washington Representative Walt Smith, working with members of the ASAS Public Policy Committee, has scheduled a meeting with representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The meeting will take place on July 26th and focus on water quality as it relates to animal agriculture. The meeting will provide an opportunity for EPA to learn more about the latest science and become more familiar with resources available from FASS and its founding societies.
On June 20th, FASS President Don Beitz sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack regarding the vacancy of the Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Dr. Beitz’s letter focuses on key qualities desirable for a NIFA Director including: experience in conducting and managing agricultural science, familiarity with the nation’s Land Grant Universities, support for the integration of research, education and extension, and recognition of the need for a balanced portfolio. NIFA’s first director, Roger Beachy, stepped down in May, and the Department is currently working to fill the position.