January 19, 2020
Congress returned to session in September. Recent hot-button issues—including impeachment hearings, the 2020 budget, trade agreements, and conflict in the Middle East—have drawn much of the attention. The only one of these items resolved is the 2020 budget, but a warning: work on the 2021 budget begins in about a month. The pending impeachment trial, the upcoming primary season, and the 2020 elections will limit any actual legislative work this year.
Ag Budget Status
It required multiple continuing resolutions (CR), but a budget was passed and signed into law on December 19. According to the House Appropriations Committee, the bill provides $3.2 billion, $171 million above the fiscal year 2019 level, for agriculture research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). This funding will support research at all ARS facilities to help mitigate and stop devastating crop diseases, improve food safety and water quality, increase production, develop critically needed vaccines for diseases such as African swine fever, and combat antimicrobial resistance. This funding also includes important research investments in US land-grant colleges and universities, including a significant increase for the 1890 institutions, and for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the US Department of Agriculture’s premier competitive research program. The bill maintains or provides small increases in research funding while rejecting proposed extramural research project terminations and laboratory closures requested by the administration. The following are funding levels for FY 18, 19, and 20.
Office of Chief Economist
Economic Research Service
National Ag Statistics Service
National Institute for Food and Ag
Following is a comparison of FY 18, 19, and 20 levels (million $) for NIFA areas.
America Grows Act
As noted in prior reports. Senator Richard Durbin (IL) introduced S.2458 - America Grows Act of 2019 on September 10. It has since been referred to the Committee on the Budget. Representatives Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Kim Schrier (WA-08), and Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) introduced a companion bill in the House that includes identical language. Co-sponsors are being sought in both houses. If passed, the America Grows Act would authorize a 5% annual funding increase over the next five years for research activities at the USDA, specifically at the following agencies:
- ARS, USDA’s chief in-house scientific research agency, with 90+ locations nationwide and overseas.
- NIFA, which funds external research through a nationwide network of land-grant colleges and universities, agricultural experiment stations, schools of forestry, schools of veterinary medicine, and cooperative extension experts.
- National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), which collects and reports statistics on U.S. agriculture, such as the farm census, crop forecasts, and price estimates.
- Economic Research Service (ERS), which provides economic and policy analysis on farming, ranching, food, conservation practices, farm management, commodity markets, and rural economic development.
FASS, along with many other science-focused organizations, has indicated support for the legislation through coalition letters to legislators. The letters can be found on the FASS Science Policy site. As the budget season begins next month, Senator Durbin will launch an effort for the FY21 appropriation cycle, seeking additional sponsors. It is a useful tool for raising the visibility of and the need for research funding with your legislators.
USDA ERS and NIFA Move
- In spite of Congressional instructions to USDA to provide them with more economic justification for the move and an evaluation of the impact of the move on science, as well as concerns raised by the science community about the short- and long-term impacts, USDA proceeded with the move of ERS and NIFA personnel to the Kansas City area. They are now experiencing the problems that were expected. Dr. Scott Angle recently provided a NIFA update for the NC-FAR Board and shared the following:
- The NIFA move is proceeding, the DC building has been vacated, and temporary office space arranged in Kansas City. Permanent space is contracted for, and work is underway to set up space.
- Only 20 staff remain in DC, including 6 liaisons designated for major areas.
- 75% of the previous staff is gone.
- Program leaders in Kansas City are hiring and training new staff. Approximately 10 positions per month are being filled; the replacement process cannot proceed any faster; training is key.
- There is high interest in advertised positions, with about 100 applicants for each position.
- There are current challenges in moving funds out. He expects to be fully operational in the next year.
We would be interested in hearing of challenges you are experiencing, so that we can monitor issues and advocate for needed changes.
NC-FAR 2020 Seminars Selected
The goal of the NC-FAR “Lunch and Learn” Hill seminar series is to inform Hill staff and other policy stakeholders about the value of public investment in food and agricultural research through conveniently located seminars featuring leading-edge researchers on topics of high interest. This helps congressional staff make more informed recommendations about federal funding for food and agriculture research, education, and extension. It has proven highly successful. There were nearly 500 attendees at the nine seminars held in 2019. Over the past 15 years, there have been 9,550 attendees at the 153 seminars that have been held. The following are the seminars selected for presentation in 2020:
- Microbiomes [carryover from 2019 approved]
- Gene Editing-CRISPR 2.0 [carryover from 2019 approved]
- Gene Editing in Plants [Feb 21 requested]
- Plant Systems
- Livestock Welfare
- Potato Research [nominator to confirm that speaker selected can address federal funding]
- Managing Harmful HABs and Invasive Aquatic Weeds
- Food Products from Cultured Animal Tissues
- Soil Health-Human Health
- Rural Infrastructure
Learn more about the Hill seminar series
The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) Highlights Research
The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) was established by the Agricultural Act of 2014, known as the Farm Bill. FFAR was created to support food and agriculture research, foster collaboration, and advance and complement the mission of the US Department of Agriculture. It was officially incorporated on July 15, 2014. The Farm Bill initially provided FFAR with $200M to invest in research and required that FFAR match those funds with equal or greater non-federal dollars. It was again included in the 2018 Farm Bill with funding included in the budget. One of their objectives is to increase awareness of the need for and value of ag research. They invite you to encourage your members of Congress to attend a special event Foster Our Future – cultivate.discover.grow. that will be held in Washington, DC, on February 5, 2020. This exciting food and agriculture event will
- Demonstrate game-changing research technology and innovation
- Inspire future agriculture research by bringing scientific breakthroughs to life
- Celebrate the impact food and agriculture has on consumers and producers
- Showcase research talent
The objective is to highlight the importance of continued research investment. It will include interactive exhibits and inspiring discussions. Attendees will discover how research and science are changing the food and agriculture landscape as they wander through exhibits and see, hear, and interact with science brought to life. In 2019, approximately 500 attendees from 250+ organizations participated; 37 sponsors supported exhibits, including
- A virtual reality vertical farm and lettuce grown without soil or sun
- A real-life beehive and beekeeper to demonstrate pollinator health
- Innovative research from the brightest young scientists and FFAR awardees
Encourage your members of Congress and their staff to attend.
The FASS Science Policy Committee will continue work on updating our Policy Statements. We welcome suggestions of other areas that should be addressed. USDA REE is in the process of reviewing their Science Blueprint. We will be seeking to provide input there. As noted above, even though elections are looming, the budget cycle for 2021 begins soon, and we will be actively advocating for ag research. As the elections approach, take time to learn more about the candidates and their positions on science. We need more members of Congress who will support and advocate for the use of science in policymaking.
Please contact me if you have questions, ideas, or suggestions on any of these issues. We will provide additional information as it becomes available. We need to work together to maintain a strong and effective national research effort. If you are interested in communicating occasionally with members of Congress on issues related to animal agriculture, we are looking for FASS science policy advocates. Please contact me for details.
Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
FASS Science Policy Coordinator