December 2023


    December 28, 2023

    2023 Review and Update
    NOTE: Since this article was written, House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a deal Sunday, January 7, on how much the U.S. government will spend in the new year. The topline amount appears to be in line with the agreement worked out months ago by Schumer and then Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The deal is an important step to averting a government shutdown, but the threat isn't extinguished yet. Congress still needs to allocate the money, write the bills and pass them. Details are expected in the coming days.

    As 2023 ends and 2024 begins, where do we stand relative to agricultural issues such as government funding and the Farm Bill? The short answer is: not very far. Both the FY23 budget and the Farm Bill were set to expire on September 30, but neither appears close to being completed yet. So, how did we get here?

    Perhaps forgotten by many, the debt ceiling posed the initial threat of a government shutdown. The ceiling was raised when, on May 27, President Biden and then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy struck a deal to increase the debt ceiling but cap federal spending. The resulting bill, the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, passed the House on May 31 and the Senate on June 1. Biden signed it into law on June 3, bringing the crisis to an end. As a result of the agreement, the debt limit is suspended until January 1, 2025, and discretionary spending is capped during fiscal years 2024 and 2025. As part of the agreement, all unused funds appropriated during the COVID-19 pandemic were rescinded, and $1.4 billion of the $80 billion of funding for the Internal Revenue Service provided by the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was to be rescinded.

    That moved things to the second threat of a shutdown: the federal budget. Twelve different appropriations bills are needed to fund the government. The federal fiscal year ends on September 30, so action was needed prior to then. On September 30, Biden signed a Continuing Resolution (CR) that essentially extended the FY23 budget to November 17. The Grand Old Party spent much of the time after passage of the CR removing Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House before eventually electing Congressman Mike Johnson (LA-04) as the new Speaker of the House on October 25. No budget agreement could be reached in the short amount of time left. This resulted in the passage of a second CR. This agreement extended funding for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and three other agencies until January 19, while funding for the other eight agencies was extended until February 2. One item included in this CR was an extension of the 2018 Farm Bill to September 30.

    Congress will return to session the week of January 8, which leaves only two weeks to reach budget agreements, sign another CR, or have the Departments of Agriculture, Rural Development, Energy and Water Development, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and the Food and Drug Administration shut down. The competing issues of aid to Ukraine and Israel/Palestine, immigration reform, and border security, in addition to the fact that the agreement needs to be one that can pass both the House and Senate and be signed by the President, make another CR appear to be the most likely course of action.

    As for the Farm Bill, neither body has yet offered draft legislation. While committee leaders all express optimism that it can be completed early in the year, it seems less likely all the time.

    The FASS Science Policy Committee has actively advocated for rapid completion of the FY24 budget and the inclusion of critical research programs and funding in the Farm Bill. You can find the FASS Science Policy Committee and coalition letters on the FASS Science Policy site.

    USDA: Preparing Young People for Careers in Agriculture
    USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Agriculture Future of America (AFA), formalizing a partnership to promote the common goals of strengthening the future competitiveness and sustainability of the US agriculture industry by preparing more young people for careers in agriculture.

    "This partnership will enhance USDA's involvement with AFA and its leadership development and education mission," said Vilsack. "This agreement reinforces USDA's commitment to preparing students for future careers in agriculture, with an emphasis on federal sector employment."

    The USDA and AFA will continue to collaborate on leadership-development efforts and link these young leaders with career opportunities in food, agricultural science, natural resources, and related fields. Under the MOU, the USDA commits to advancing opportunities for AFA delegates to participate in USDA programs, including internships. The AFA will provide occasions for the USDA to meet with AFA delegates to share information about these opportunities.

    AFA is active on numerous college campuses of all sizes across the United States.

    Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research's Strategy
    The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), one of the major sources of public funding for agricultural research, began developing its Research Strategy for 2024 to 2028 early last year. This work has been completed, and FFAR recently released the following statement and document about the strategy, including the types of work they look to fund.

    Our Research Strategy was informed by numerous stakeholder consultations and input from the food and agriculture community. While we learned that the research we fund aligns with stakeholder needs, we also discovered opportunities to increase cross-disciplinary research. As such, we are transitioning from our previously established challenge areas to focus on four research priorities:

    • Cultivating thriving production systems
    • Sustaining vibrant agroecosystems
    • Bolstering healthy food systems
    • Strengthening the scientific workforce

    Our Research Strategy includes more information about our research goals, priorities, and intended impacts.

    As noted in the preceding section, the 2018 Farm Bill was extended until September 30, 2024, making the following announcement from FFAR possible:

    We are pleased to announce that thanks to congressional funding received through the Farm Bill extension, FFAR is proceeding with Seeding Solutions in 2024. We will provide additional information about dates for application submissions as soon as possible. Please visit the Seeding Solutions page for future updates.

    The US Dairy Forage Research Center
    The US Dairy Forage Research Center is 1 of about 90 locations of the of the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Its strength lies in a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to research that includes soil, forage crops, forage management, ruminant nutrition, manure management, and environmental sustainability. It is one of the few USDA facilities that has a research dairy herd. Established in 1981, the main offices and laboratories are located on the west side of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, with research farms near Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, and Stratford, Wisconsin. Additional research laboratories and offices are located in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Center Director Dennis Hancock, PhD, recently presented the annual State of the Center Address. Some highlights included:

    • Since FY19, the Center has substantially expanded research projects from 48 to 64, including 33 non-assistance cooperative agreements, 13 research support agreements, 12 non-funded cooperative agreements, 3 IRAs, 1 cooperative research and development agreement, and 2 CA, as well as 8 Current Research Information System projects.
    • The number of total full-time employees at the Center is 87.4, with 27 scientists, about 50 permanent non-scientists, and 10 temporary non-scientists.
    • The total Center budget, including mandated passthroughs, is $19.4 million.
    • New funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, passed by the last Congress, has allowed climate work related to field emissions measurement, animal emissions, and a farm-emissions tower.
    • The new dairy facility for the Center is on track, with bids to be put out this month, contracts anticipated to be awarded in May 2024, and construction through 2026.

    You can learn more about the work of the Center here.

    USDA Economic Research Service Reports: Genetically Engineered Crops Continue to Dominate Soybean, Cotton, and Corn Acres Planted by US Farmers
    Genetically engineered (GE) seeds were commercially introduced in the United States for major field crops in 1996, and adoption rates increased rapidly in the years that followed. The two main GE trait types are herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant. These traits can be added individually to seeds or combined into a single seed (called stacked seed traits). The USDA Economic Research Service reports information on GE crops in the Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S. These data show that by 2008, more than 50% of corn, cotton, and soybean acres were planted with at least one GE seed trait. Today, more than 90% of corn, cotton, and soybean acres are planted using at least one GE trait.

    Find more information here.

    FASS Science Policy Committee
    The FASS Science Policy Committee is looking for additional members to help share with Congress and the public the importance of agricultural research for our country and the world. We invite you to join our efforts in 2024 as we advocate for increased funding and people needed to do the work.

    The Science Policy Committee consists of scientists and educators from academia and industry with expertise in multiple species and disciplines. It serves as a leading authority on food-animal science research and applications and as a respected source of rigorous, peer-reviewed science for policymakers worldwide. We advocate for science-based policymaking and increased funding for animal agriculture research, and we promote the value and importance of animal science research and education in climate-resilient, equitable agriculture in multiple ways:

    • Work with relevant coalitions related to animal and agriculture science to provide input on legislation, regulations, and priority setting.
    • Identify opportunities to work with producer- and science-based groups that support animal agriculture.
    • Participate in and encourage other scientists to join in conversations with policymakers and consumers to ensure a voice for animal science in society and government.
    • Provide educational programs and materials for scientists, students, consumers, policymakers, regulators, and agricultural businesses with science-based information on key issues.

    Committee terms are for three years, with an opportunity to renew for an additional term. The committee meets via Zoom.

    John McNamara serves as chair of the committee. The committee continues to make progress on reviewing and updating existing FASS Science Policy Statements. We also continue to work on identifying and developing additional policy statements as needed, joining coalition efforts, and planning activities to advance animal agriculture research funding while encouraging the use of sound science in decision-making.

    Please contact me if you are interested in serving on the committee or have questions, ideas, or suggestions on any of these or other policy issues. We will provide additional information on these and other emerging issues as it becomes available. We need to work together to maintain a strong and effective national research effort.

    Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
    FASS Science Policy Coordinator