On Monday, April 24, the Senate voted to confirm Sonny Perdue as the 31st Secretary of Agriculture. The final vote was 87–11, showing strong bipartisan support for the former governor of Georgia. Secretary Perdue was sworn in on April 25.
After his swearing in, Perdue gave a speech outlining four principles for his time at USDA:
- Maximize the ability of the men and women of America’s agriculture and agribusiness sector to create jobs, to produce and sell the foods and fiber that feed and clothe the world, and to reap the earned reward of their labor. It should be the aim of the American government to remove every obstacle and give farmers, ranchers, and producers every opportunity to prosper.
- Prioritize customer service every day for American taxpayers and consumers. They will expect, and have every right to demand, that their government conduct the people’s business efficiently, effectively, and with the utmost integrity.
- Continue to serve in the critical role of ensuring the food we put on the table to feed our families meets the strict safety standards we’ve established. Food security is a key component of national security, because hunger and peace do not long coexist.
- Remember that America’s agricultural bounty comes directly from the land. And today, those land resources sustain more than 320 million Americans and countless millions more around the globe.
More information on Secretary Perdue can be found by clicking here.
The federal government has been operating under a series of continuing resolutions; the most recent passed on April 28. The one-week stopgap measure avoided a shutdown and allowed negotiators to keep working. On May 1, Congressional leaders announced that they had reached a deal on funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2017. The omnibus spending package provides over $1 trillion in funding.
The package funds all aspects of the federal government, including the USDA. Within the USDA research accounts, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would receive $1.170 billion, a $27 million increase over FY 2016. Included in this increase are additional funds to support poultry production and health research and workforce development related to the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. The bill also includes $99.6 million for ARS Buildings and Facilities to continue funding projects prioritized in the ARS Capital Investment Strategy. For the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), most accounts were funded at the same level as last year, the major exception being the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which received a $25 million increase from $350 million to $375 million. A summary of selected key accounts is listed below:
FY 2016 – FINAL
FY 2017 – House
FY 2017 - Senate
FY 2017 – Omnibus (FINAL)
Agricultural Research Service
ARS Buildings and Facilities
NIFA Research and Education
$375 million (discretionary)
$375 million (discretionary)
$375 million (discretionary)
Expanded Section 1433
NIFA Extension Activities
NIFA Integrated Activities
The House Rules Committee is expected to consider the omnibus bill on May 2, with full House and Senate action to occur shortly thereafter. It is expected that the bill will pass both chambers and be signed by President Trump this week. A copy of the omnibus bill can be found here.
On April 25, President Trump signed an Executive Order on Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America. The Executive Order creates an interagency task force to examine the concerns of rural America and suggest legislative and regulatory changes to address them. The ultimate goal is to spur economic growth in rural America.
The policy in the Executive Order states:
“A reliable, safe, and affordable food, fiber, and forestry supply is critical to America's national security, stability, and prosperity. It is in the national interest to promote American agriculture and protect the rural communities where food, fiber, forestry, and many of our renewable fuels are cultivated. It is further in the national interest to ensure that regulatory burdens do not unnecessarily encumber agricultural production, harm rural communities, constrain economic growth, hamper job creation, or increase the cost of food for Americans and our customers around the world.”
The order creates an interagency task force composed of representatives from over 20 government departments and agencies. The task force is charged with identifying legislative, regulatory, and policy changes to promote agriculture, economic development, job growth, infrastructure improvements, technological innovation, energy security, and quality of life in rural America. The group is to submit a report to the President in 180 days. A copy of the Executive Order can be found here.
The Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to hold its second Farm Bill field hearing on May 6, 2017. The hearing is titled “Growing Jobs and Economic Opportunity: Perspectives on the 2018 Farm Bill from Michigan” and will be held at the Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center of Michigan State University in Frankenmuth, Michigan. The committee will hear from a wide variety of agricultural producers and Farm Bill stakeholders, examining agriculture, as well as conservation, rural economic development, research, forestry, energy, and nutrition policies that affect Michigan. More information on the hearing can be found here.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has filed a lawsuit against the USDA regarding the removal of animal abuse information from the APHIS website. The data was removed from the APHIS website in early February as part of an agency review. Some of the information has since been added back to the site. The Trump Administration’s Justice Department has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The Justice Department is arguing that USDA has no legal obligation to repost enforcement records regarding animal abuse to the website.
FASS Washington Representative Lowell Randel participated in a career panel at the University of Maryland on April 17. Randel joined other panelists from the Washington, DC, area to discuss careers in animal science. More than 20 animal science students from the University of Maryland attended the session, which produced a lively discussion about the variety of careers available in the animal sciences. The program was cosponsored by the Washington, DC, chapter of ARPAS and the University of Maryland.
In late April, John McNamara met with several leaders of National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (NIFA/AFRI), including Mark Mirando and Steve Smith, national program leaders, Division of Animal Systems; Adele Turzillo, division director, Division of Animal Systems; and Parag Chitnis, deputy director, Institute of Food Production and Sustainability. They discussed the role of the FASS Science Policy Committee in supporting top-quality scientific research, extension, and education in animal agriculture and all forms of agricultural research and production.
Updates from AFRI included their ongoing support of foundation research in animal sciences including agricultural systems and technology; animal health and production of animal products and other areas. Information can be found at https://www.nifa.usda.gov/grant-search/field_special_notation/3452.
Also discussed was the new and expanding commodity board system for funding of projects, including basic science projects, that meet commodity board (such as pork, dairy, beef, or poultry) goals. Commodity boards can submit topics to NIFA/AFRI and these topics can then be integrated into ongoing funding processes; they are a 1:1 match with significant funding levels. They are a 1:1 match with significant funding levels. Applicants have to specifically address the needs of the commodity board in their applications and must be specifically recommended for funding by the commodity board, and the normal AFRI/NRI reviews decide which are funded. This is an excellent possibility to extend research funds and speed application of research findings to the field. More information can be obtained from https://nifa.usda.gov/commodity-boards-frequently-asked-questions#funding and agency leaders.
The FASS Science Policy Committee urges members to research this program and discuss potential support with the national commodity boards in their field.
Newer initiatives include the Tactical Sciences program, which has the purpose of researching and supporting the safety and efficiency of food production and broadly to strengthen our national capacity to detect diseases and pests, prevent/minimize outbreaks, deal with natural disasters, and, when outbreaks do occur, support containment and recovery efforts. Contact Adele Turzillo for more details.
The Big Data program supports the integration of research, data publication and management, and data sharing to improve the efficiency of large-scale research and application. One thing that is supported through this program is informational and planning workshops to provide input into AFRI for the funding of large-scale data projects. More information can be obtained from Parag Chitnis and recent announcements at https://nifa.usda.gov/resource/food-and-agriculture-data-science and https://nifa.usda.gov/announcement/usda-announces-135-million-support-data-driven-farm-management-practices.