Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are making preparations to advance their respective versions of the Farm Bill in May. Chairwoman Stabenow has indicated that she would like the Senate Agriculture Committee to mark-up the Farm Bill as early as the week of May 6th. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas has scheduled committee consideration of the Farm Bill for May 15th. Both committees have placed a high priority on completing committee action on the Farm Bill prior to Memorial Day.
On Wednesday, April 10th, President Obama released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2014. The budget release was delayed over two months due to the fiscal cliff and sequestration debates that occurred earlier in the year.
A copy of the USDA Budget Summary can be found by clicking here. For the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the total budget authority for FY 2014 is proposed to be $146 billion, which includes $123 billion in mandatory budget authority, for things such as nutrition and commodity programs, and $23 billion in discretionary budget authority, which is the primary source of funds for programs such as research. The proposed budget authority for USDA’s Research, Education and Economics agency’s (NIFA, ARS, ERS and NASS) is $2.8 billion. This comprises about 12 percent of USDA’s discretionary budget, but less than two percent of USDA’s overall budget authority.
When looking specifically at the proposals for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) there is good news for agriculture research. The NIFA budget includes a significant increase in funds for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) from $297 million in FY 2013 (actually $266 million when you account for sequestration and rescissions). Other core NIFA programs such as the Hatch Act and Smith Lever Act would be funded at FY 2012 levels of $236 million and $294 million respectively.
The President’s budget also proposes additional funds for ARS, with $1.124 billion proposed for salaries and expenses. This is up from $1.1 billion (minus sequestration and rescissions) in FY 2013, but the proportion of funding for livestock is only 14 percent of the total. Within these funds Livestock Production would receive $73 million (down from $77 million in FY 2013) and Livestock Protection would receive $63 million (up from $60 million in FY 2013). A bright note for the animal sciences in the ARS budget is $155 million to fully fund the construction of a new Southeast Poultry Disease Research Laboratory in Athens, GA.
In response to the release of the President’s budget, ASAS joined FASS and other members of the Animal Agriculture Coalition in requesting support for agriculture research and other programs important to animal agriculture including the significant increase proposed to AFRI and funding for the new poultry research facility.
With the release of the President’s budget, the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees have now begun their process for fiscal year 2014. The House committee scheduled a series of hearings for the week of April 15th, including a hearing on USDA’s Research, Education and Economics agencies on Wednesday, April 17th.
At the April 17th hearing, Dr. Catherine Woteki, Undersecretary for REE, along with the administrators from ARS, NIFA, ERS and NASS provided testimony to the committee highlighting major initiatives included in the 2014 budget. Full copies of witness testimony and Chairman Robert Aderholt’s (R-AL) opening statement can be found on the subcommittee website by clicking here.
Members of the subcommittee asked a number of questions related to the proposed budget request. Chairman Aderholt asked Dr. Woteki to list the top five research initiatives conducted by USDA. Dr. Woteki responded that the new REE Action Plan was helping prioritize research projects. She stated that a report is currently in departmental clearance and should be available within the next month that will identify food security, improving food safety, nutrition (including obesity), biofuels and adaptation / mitigation for climate change as high priority areas for research.
Congressman Tom Rooney (R-FL) asked about the impact of sequestration on REE programs. Dr. Ramaswamy described the impacts to NIFA. He stated that approximately 100 new grant proposals will not be funded as a result of sequestration and that competition will be keener for available grants. In addition, $130 million in specialty crop initiatives will be lost.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) questioned why AFRI funding warrants such a significant increase while many other programs are flat funded or face reductions. Dr. Ramaswamy answered by stating there is a strong need to increase funding for competitive grant programs and stem the loss of capacity in research that has occurred. He also remarked that AFRI increases will be important to continue supporting minority serving institutions.
Finally, specific to animal agriculture, Congresswoman Pingree (D-ME) cited the September 2011 GAO Report on Antibiotic Resistance in Livestock and asked what research was being conducted to combat resistance. Dr Woteki responded that their focus was on future uses for anti-microbial tools and methodologies. Examples include: carcass and hide rinses to reduce foodborne pathogens, developing a fundamental understanding about the transfer of pathogens; pre/pro biotics that promote growth but substitute for antibiotics and microbiome approaches to help better understand the breakdown of feedstuffs in the rumen. Woteki went on to state that NIFA has $5 million allocated in FY 2014 budget for efforts in the anti-microbial area, specifically on where microbes enter and how they transfer throughout a biological system.
The President’s FY 2014 budget request for the National Science Foundation (NSF) provides a total of $7.6 billion, which is approximately $600 million more than the FY 2012 enacted level. This total includes $6.2 billion for research and related activities.
The proposed NSF budget estimates that the agency will receive a total of 53,200 competitive proposals in FY 2014. Of these proposals, NSF is projecting 12,600 awards, reflecting a 24 percent funding rate, which is slightly higher than the funding rate of 21 percent expected in FY 2013. A full summary of the NSF budget can be found here.
The President’s FY 2014 budget request for the National Institutes of Health provides a total of 31.3 billion, which is $471 million over the FY 2012 enacted level. The proposed budget estimates that NIH will award approximately 10,269 awards in FY 2014 at and average of $456,000 per award. NIH anticipates a funding success rate of 19 percent in FY 2014, which is similar to the 18 percent success rate in FY 2012.
The NIH budget proposes to focus on the following priorities: Investing in Today’s Basic Research for Tomorrow’s Breakthroughs, Advancing Translational Sciences, Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Scientific Talent and Creativity, HIV/AIDS and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education. An overview of the NIH budget can be found here.
The American Society of Animal Science (ASAS), in partnership with the Alliance of Crop, Soil and Environmental Science Societies (ACSESS) provided a briefing to Congressional staff on April 22nd regarding how biofuel production affects food prices and animal feedstuffs. The briefing highlighted key issues from the April edition of Animal Frontiers which focused on research related to biofuels. Experts participating in the briefing were Dr. Galen Erickson, an animal scientist from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Dr. Wally Tyner, an agricultural economist from Purdue University; and Dr. Sylvie Brouder, an agronomist from Purdue University. In addition to a briefing in the House Agriculture Committee, the group also met with staff from the Senate Agriculture Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This was the first of a series of Congressional briefings sponsored by ASAS that will coincide with the release of Animal Frontiers. The next briefing will be in the summer and cover food security.
The FASS Science Policy Committee offered a webinar on April 25th regarding labeling of genetically engineered (GE) products. GE labeling continues to be a hot topic for policy makers in Washington. GE labeling legislation was introduced in Congress the same day as the FASS webinar. Many states are also considering GE labeling requirements. Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam from the University of California – Davis and Dr. Bruce Chassy from the University of Illinois discussed the scientific literature associated with the food safety of GE plants and animals and discuss whether the data supports the need for process-based labeling of GE food. Over 80 representatives from government, industry and academia participated in the webinar. A full recording of the webinar can be found on the FASS website.