On June 21st, the Senate finished its consideration of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, better known as the Farm Bill. After much controversy about how many amendments, and which amendments, would be allowed on the Senate floor, an agreement was reached to provide for consideration of 73 amendments. The bill ultimately passed the Senate by a vote of 64 to 35. The bill would save $24.7 billion with significant savings coming from commodity programs including the elimination of direct payments. The bill places increased emphasis on crop insurance as a key component of the agriculture safety net.
The legislation includes a research title and reauthorizes major agricultural research programs such as the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program. The bill also establishes a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR). The FFAR would be a private, non-profit foundation, similar to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, and will provide a new mechanism to support and conduct agricultural research. FASS has actively participated in an ad hoc coalition working on the foundation concept and is pleased that the program was included the Senate version of the Farm Bill.
Another significant provision within the research title addresses how USDA provides information to Congress about its annual budget requests. The bill requires USDA and its research agencies to provide very specific information about the nature of programs it intends to fund each fiscal year. For the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), this will require the agency to describe each RFA that is anticipated for the coming fiscal year. The provision is designed to provide detailed information regarding the agencies’ plans, so that Congress may provide better oversight on research priorities and expenditures. It comes as a response to concerns that the agencies have not followed Congressional priorities laid out in statute.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas has scheduled a meeting on July 11th to begin committee consideration of the House version of the Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill expires on September 30th, so activities are expected to intensify in hopes to have new legislation in place before current authorities expire.
On June 19th, the House Appropriations Committee passed its version of the FY 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. The House version provides $19.4 billion in discretionary funding which is $365 million below last year’s level and $1.7 billion below the President’s budget request. The decrease in discretionary funding put pressure on all accounts funded in the bill, including agricultural research. As a result, overall funding for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is down from fiscal year 2012 and below the funding included in the Senate version. The table below includes selected agricultural research accounts and how they compare to last year, the Senate version and the President’s budget request. Floor consideration of the House agriculture appropriations bill is expected as early as the week of June 25th.
Fiscal Year 2013 Agriculture Appropriations – Selected Accounts as of June 29, 2012
FY 2012 Final
FY 2013 President's Request
FY 2013 Senate
FY 2013 House
Agriculture Research Service – Salaries and Expenses
NIFA Research and Education Activities
Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI)
Continuing Animal Health and Disease Research Program
NIFA Extension Activities
Smith Lever 3(b) and (c)
Food Animal Residue Avoidance Database (FARAD)
NIFA Integrated Activities
On June 1, 2012, ADSA, along with FASS, ASAS, PSA and other agriculture and science organizations sent a letter to President Obama thanking him for elevating the issues of food security and nutrition at the recent G8 meetings in Chicago. The letter states that a firm commitment by the U.S. government is needed to aggressively support agricultural innovation, including modern biotechnology. This commitment will be necessary to ensure farmers have the tools they need to produce safe and nutritious food, in addition to feed, fuel and fiber, in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner. The letter also emphasizes the critical role of animal and plant science in helping meet growing global food demands.
The FASS Science Policy Committee sponsored a webinar on June 12, 2012 entitled “Strengthening the Ties Between Animal Science and Biomedicine: Dual Use and Other Opportunities Through the NIH.” Webinar participants heard from Dr. Ravi N. Ravindranath of NIH about how to work with the National Institutes of Health and current dual use programs. They also heard from Dr. Thomas E. Spencer who has successfully competed for NIH funding and also served on NIH review panels. The webinar can be accessed on the FASS website at: http://www.fass.org/policy_webinar.asp.
On June 29th, FASS, ADSA, ASAS and PSA joined a number of scientific societies to send a letter to Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack regarding USDA employee travel to scientific meetings. The letter highlights the value of participation at scientific and technical conferences by USDA scientists and researchers to the advancement of agricultural science and the USDA mission. These meetings and conferences are an essential venue for scientific discussion, debate, collaboration and exchange that are fundamental to the conduct of science. The letter encourages Secretary Vilsack to continue to provide the necessary flexibility for government employees to attend scientific and technical conferences organized or supported by professional societies and non-governmental organizations.