March 8, 2018
Bill Northey confirmed as USDA Undersecretary
After a four-month delay, due to a hold placed on the nomination by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bill Northey was confirmed by the Senate as Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. Because he was nominated to serve as Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, some additional action was required of Congress to ensure that he can serve in the new position that was created by reorganization of the USDA mandated by the 2014 Farm Bill. The new mission area prompted the realignment of several agencies under the newly named Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC), the position for which Northey was confirmed; FPAC will encompass the USDA’s domestic-facing agencies: the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Risk Management Agency. Northey’s approval is certainly a positive step in filling a leadership post at USDA and should enhance the department’s ability to work on the Farm Bill; however, many critical positions, including that of chief scientist, remain open and it is unclear when they will be filled.
USDA and the Farm Bill Budget Situation
After a brief early-morning shutdown on February 8, the Senate and then the House passed the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018” and it was signed into law shortly thereafter by the president. The bill provides over $300 billion in additional funding over the next two years and should avoid additional government shutdowns in the near term. It is a massive 652-page bill, and much remains to be learned about its impact, but a few of the items included are
- An extension of borrowing authority to March 2019
- An additional $165 billion for defense spending
- An additional $131 billion for domestic programs
- $90 billion for disaster relief, and
- $10 billion for infrastructure
Among the many additional provision included in the bill are actions to address the cotton and dairy programs. The dairy provisions are focused on the Margin Protection Program (MPP). The provisions lower the cost of coverage, expand coverage to 5 million pounds annually, and extend the time that producers will have to enroll in the program. Including the cotton and dairy actions in the budget bill is expected to make developing the next farm bill that is due by September 30 somewhat easier. While dairy was addressed in the new budget, debate may not be over. Rep. Peterson (D-MN), ranking member of the House Ag committee, indicated that he feels the changes included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 are inadequate and that additional changes are needed. It is uncertain what this will mean. Immigration, NAFTA and other trade issues, SNAP and feeding programs, as well as ongoing concerns over the state of the farm economy will affect Farm Bill discussions. The upcoming mid-term elections also limit the time that Congress has to consider legislation and their willingness to take action. Stay tuned—we will continue to push for added research funding.
NIFA Annual Report
In early February, the USDA’s 2017 Annual Report of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) titled User Inspired Science Transforming Lives was released. It includes examples of many NIFA-funded research, extension, and education outcomes that are useful in telling the story of how publically funded research benefits the country and the world.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans Development Process
The USDA and US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have jointly announced a new step in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) development process. The departments are seeking public comments on their proposed priority topics and supporting scientific questions that will guide the development of the upcoming 2020–2025 edition of the DGA. Comments may be submitted through the Federal Register; the comment period will be open until March 30, 2018. The topics, supporting scientific questions, and links for submitting public comments are available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
USDA and HHS will consider all public comments submitted in finalizing the list of topics and supporting questions to be examined in the development of the 2020–2025 DGA. After finalizing the topics and supporting questions, USDA and HHS will post a public call for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee nominations. The areas of expertise needed will be based on the final topics and supporting scientific questions, resulting in a coordinated and efficient scientific review. For more information and links, go to DietaryGuidelines.gov.
USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum
Now in its 94th year, the Agricultural Outlook Forum is the USDA’s largest annual meeting, attracting as many as 2,000 attendees from the United States and abroad. The forum highlights key issues and topics within the agricultural community, offering a platform for conversation among producers, processors, policymakers, government officials, and non-governmental organizations, both foreign and domestic. While price and production forecasts for major commodities are covered widely in the farm press, there are other topics of interest. This year’s session had two segments on “Innovation in Agriculture” that provided a focus on research. One was “Building Tomorrow’s Agriculture” and the other “Livestock Reproduction Meets Modern Technology.” Speaker presentations are available on the website. To view them, browse the sessions and click on the presentation title.
FASS Inc. Science Policy Coordination Activities – February
Although some things are beginning to move, there has been little visible action on the Farm Bill during the past month. Intrigue over investigations and other issues continue to keep the attention of Congress. The FASS Science Policy Coordinator continues to be in regular communication with other science and industry groups relative to progress on the issues. We anticipate that additional coalition letters will be forthcoming in the coming weeks. Planning is underway with the FASS Science Policy Committee for a webinar later this spring. We are also in communication with NCFAR on plans for a Summit to Plan for Agriculture, Food, Health, and Natural Resource Research, Economics, Education, Extension, and Outreach. Its objective will be to provide a vision for the next generation of research and education investments in agricultural and related fields. The exact date is still being determined—please see below.
For additional details, contact
Ken Olson, PhD, PAS, FASS Science Policy Coordinator
Webinar on the impact of public and private investment in agricultural research and the US Economy
We are finalizing the webinar on the role of public and private investment in agricultural research on the US economy and jobs. It will be broadcast Wednesday, March 28, at noon (CDT). Look for the announcement and viewing details soon! This webinar is targeted to students, faculty, specialists, anyone involved in agriculture, or anyone who buys food and provides basic information on why ag research is important to the overall economy, not just farming!
The FASS Science Policy Committee and many other agricultural research and industry organizations provide many different forms of educational materials aimed at policy makers in state and federal government positions. These are clearly valuable but we have not focused as much on giving our end clients — the American citizen and especially those students interested in agriculture, teachers, fellow faculty members, producers, and support people the information they need to understand and to help others understand the major importance of public funding for agricultural research as well as the impact of private–public partnerships. It is not just the funding of scientists and student training in agriculture that are important, but the longstanding deep positive effect on the US and world economy and on the food security and health of the nation and world that matter.
One group we would especially like to hear from are students and student groups in animal sciences and related departments who hope to work in agriculture or to support agricultural endeavors. Please contact the SPC chair directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with issues, information, or concerns you would like addressed. If you work in an academic department, please let your students know about the webinar and have them write directly on any issue they would like to learn more about.
One major need that comes up in every workshop in agriculture is ensuring the “personal capital” and building human resources as well as modern infrastructure to support agricultural research, teaching, extension, and application. Olson has detailed recent activity by the USDA on these topics, and it is heartening that the Agriculture Secretary is supportive. In the first report on improving rural America, we identified over 100 actions the federal government should consider undertaking to ensure growth in America’s heartland. We organized these solutions around five key indicators: connectivity, quality of life, rural workforce, technological innovation, and economic development. Taken together, these proposals create a road map to reinvigorate rural America's economy and its most precious resources, its people. Each recommendation intersects with and complements the others, but the task force found one overarching need: improved high-speed internet access. To increase access to broadband in rural areas, we must incentivize private capital investment, including the use of public–private partnerships. We must also make investment in high-speed internet infrastructure more attractive by streamlining arduous review, approval, and permitting processes.
John P. McNamara
FASS SPC Chair