March 4, 2019
The good news this month was that an agreement was finally reached on February 14 to fund the USDA and other agencies for the remainder of FY19. The bipartisan bill was signed by President Trump, avoiding another shutdown and allowing the government to get back to work.
The final FY19 budget that was passed provided $328 billion for 15 agencies including USDA. The Senate passed the measure 83–16, and the House followed, voting 300–128. It was then signed by President Trump, who immediately declared a national emergency in an effort to gain funding for his border wall that was not provided in the bill. The battle continues over this action, but all agencies are now open. The USDA is beginning work on implementing the Farm Bill.
There were several positive items that FASS had supported that were included in the budget. Two major items were that the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR) was continued and funded, and the report language for the bill stated: “The conferees are concerned about the unknown costs associated with the proposed move of the National Institutes of Food and Agriculture [NIFA] and the Economic Research Service [ERS] to a new location outside of the National Capital Region. In submitting the fiscal year 2020 budget justification, the Department is directed to include all cost estimates for the proposed move of the two agencies, as well as a detailed analysis of any research benefits of their relocation. There is an expectation that this process will be followed in the future for any other potential proposed agency relocations by the Department.”
The managers’ statement added, “The conferees support an indefinite delay in the proposed transfer of ERS to the Office of the Chief Economist. At this time, the conferees find it appropriate for ERS to remain under the Research, Education and Economics mission area. The conferees take this position as several questions remain about the merits of the proposed transfer as well as the proposed relocation of ERS outside of the National Capital Region. Insufficient information and justification relating to the reorganization and relocation make moving forward on these proposals premature at this time.”
The FY19 budget runs out on September 30, so work is well underway on the FY20 budget. The administration is reported to be proposing an overall 5% cut for non-defense agencies; however, the USDA has indicated that they are slated for a significantly larger cut than this. Congress normally goes a different direction from the president on the budget, but it will be important for members of Congress to continue to hear from constituents of the importance of research and the need for research funding. FASS will push this message, but it is also important for individual scientists and users of the science to speak up as well.
Testimony and Coalition Letters
During the month, FASS provided written testimony to the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Listening session that sought input on research priorities for the future. Based on past work, FASS identified the following as priorities:
- Food Security—ensuring an adequate supply of safe and healthy food for a growing world population;
- One Health—all aspects of the intersection between animal and human health; and
- Stewardship or caring for the environment and the well-being of animals.
FASS also joined some coalition letters: one supporting the nomination of Dr. Scott Hutchins to become the Undersecretary of REE of the USDA, another thanking leadership of the House and Senate Ag Appropriations Committees for the language accompanying the FY19 spending bills slowing the USDA proposed ERS and NIFA moves, and another to administrators and program leaders at ARS urging the use of funds included in the FY19 budget for dairy facilities at the US Dairy Forage Research Center. Copies of these and past letters are available in the Science Policy section of the FASS website.
Farm Bill Implementation
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue met in separate hearings last week with the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to discuss implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill and other issues. The farm economy is a major concern, with the dairy economy being one of the most critical. Perdue said he hopes to offer new Dairy Margin Coverage program (DMC) signup by mid-June. The dairy provisions also provide a net refund on prior premiums paid under the last farm bill, which Perdue thinks will be released in April. A calculator to help farmers decide what level offers the best protection could be ready by mid-April. He said he thinks dairy farmers could begin receiving retroactive payments by July 8 for the start of the year for whatever they allocate.
Corn, soybean, wheat, and other growers will be able to sign up for Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage starting September 1. Perdue said he is considering December 1 for general enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program.
On an issue of concern to the research community, Perdue continues to defend his decision to move the ERS and NIFA outside of Washington, DC. As noted previously, the latest funding bill included a 60-day period for the USDA to provide Congress with a cost/benefit analysis of the rationale for the move. Separate legislation is being introduced to slow or stop the planned move. We will continue to provide input and encourage action around this issue in the coming weeks and months.
ECOP-ESCOP Identifies Priorities
In January, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy (ESCOP)—Science and Technology Committee, released “A Science Roadmap for Food and Agriculture.” It identifies seven areas as “GRAND CHALLENGES IN FOOD & AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH” and provides extensive information on them. You can find more detail here: http://escop.info/roadmaptext/.
FASS Inc. Science Policy Coordination Activities – February 2019
As noted, the government shutdown put a temporary hold on action relative to implementation of the Farm Bill, but it began to move forward during the month. We participated in calls relative to Farm Bill implementation and coalition letters on budget concerns. We continue to encourage action by Congress to address USDA reorganization plans. A focus in the coming weeks and months will be the FY20 budget, as we seek to maintain funding for research, ensure that animal research is treated equitably, and ensure that policy decisions are based on peer-reviewed science. The USDA has indicated that there will be a listening session for research, education, and economics on March 21, but no details on the time or location are currently available.
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 science policy and being an advocate for agricultural science, the FASS SPC is looking for you. We currently have openings for a couple of additional members on the committee. Please contact me for details. If you are interested in communicating occasionally with members of Congress on issues related to animal agriculture, we are also looking for FASS science policy advocates. Again, please contact me for details.
Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
FASS Science Policy Coordinator