ASHS International Issues Consultant Jonathan Moore gives us an update on Congress and the budget talks
ASHS’ continued visibility and communications outreach on Capitol Hill will play a crucial role for program retention with Research and Horticulture/Organic Titles of farm bill legislation as the farm bill renewal approaches. ASHS specifically references programs within NIFA and ARS, as well as formula research and extension funding, Specialty Crop Block Grants, pest and disease management, and the National Clean Plant Network program. And lest we forget agriculture statistics, for this year, USDA plans to launch another comprehensive agriculture census. Under direction of the department’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, this all-important tally could once again verify horticulture’s omnipresent contributions for all regions of the country. No small point when talking jobs and economic development to representatives and senators.
As the second session of the 112th Congress unfolds, deliberations on farm bill reauthorization slowly takes shape. Like previous farm bills dating back to the New Deal era, this one would cover another five-year span (2013–17). Current fiscal conditions will determine the scope of any final product approved by lawmakers. Thus emerges a dual challenge of getting intra- and extramural programs listed within statutory law, followed by annual funding streams ensuring continued operation of your research activities. Prior numbers tell the story of challenges and hurdles this new bill faces. Two previous farm bills crafted in more robust economic times offer quite a contrast. An additional $78–80 billion was on hand for the 2002 Farm Bill, funding everything from commodity and nutrition programs, to research, marketing, and energy initiatives. Six years later and just prior to the outbreak of a severe recession, the 2008 Farm Bill had approximately $8 billion in additional budget authority to draw from. This ’08 bill has been a landmark piece of legislation for horticulture research, and continues providing statutory law for agriculture policy until its official expiration this coming September 30. Expect a complete about-face for this 2012 measure, where all agriculture sectors will be lucky, at best, to hold the line with their current appropriations.
Both House and Senate agriculture panels plan are starting from a blueprint they offered this past November to the Deficit Reduction Committee. That farm bill proposal contained $23 billion in spending reductions. Of that total, $10 to $15 billion in cuts targeted mandatory programs such as SCRI, OREI, Biomass Research & Development, and several other line items. Under current deliberations, we may still operate within those numerical boundaries. Look for research to fare better than other agriculture sectors, but there will be no sacred cows in this process. Additional mandatory cuts on tap from House and Senate Budget Committees spell only one thing. All federal program sectors must be prepared to operate with less. As of this update, the House Budget Committee, led by its chair, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), released its blueprint on March 20. That report provides an initial indication of just how deep these latest round of cuts will impact all sectors of the federal government. In the final analysis, NIFA and ARS funding boils down to how budget guidelines meeting mandatory “sequestration” requirements will be crafted, and, any successes horticulture proponents may have convincing lawmakers to hold the line with research, emphasizing its key role for addressing consumer demands for safe, affordable, and abundant food supplies. With growing populations at home and abroad, those demands are sure to be on the rise. Look for basic and applied science to be called upon once again to find innovative solutions.
It is also important to remember that, while commodity, conservation, and nutrition programs are often gauged on the cyclical nature of market prices, research remains in demand regardless of economic conditions. One of many mantras that ASHS continues to articulate throughout the halls of Congress, government agencies, and private industry is “Agriculture research is a consistent food producer and an economic engine forming the basis for all civilization.”
As hearings progress, Senator Stabenow has issued a statement expressing hope that her committee completes a farm bill draft by early to mid-April. Her House counterpart, Rep. Frank Lucas, foresees a possible May–June deadline from his panel. No other specific timetables have been issued as of this update. Agriculture forces can only unite in their hope for a steady and timely deliberative process with this new farm bill. Otherwise, a lengthy drawn out process could spill over in to a new congressional session. Should that occur, starting all over again with a new and uncertain plan becomes the only option.
While canvassing congressional offices to assess farm bill support, another activity on the policy front has been submitting official statements for farm bill hearings. Building on similar practices conducted during the 2008 Farm Bill, ASHS submitted an official statement for a March 7, 2012, Senate hearing on Healthy Food Initiatives. Chaired by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS), the primary topic concerned getting more specialty crops into urban and rural “food deserts”—areas where accessibility to fruits and vegetables has been severely limited or nonexistent. Whether improving shelf life of perishable commodities, or creating green space with bountiful urban gardens, horticultural research lies at the heart of making healthy foods more accessible and abundant throughout all regions of the country. This was reflected in our statement (http://preview.tinyurl.com/7mg9e42). A number of growers and processors testified, led by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who said that locally grown foods represent U.S. agriculture’s fastest growing sector. And music to our ears, the Secretary added that roughly $1 dollar invested in research yields $20 in dividends for producers and consumers. We could not have asked for a better endorsement from agriculture’s top official. As for future hearings, the ultimate goal remains getting an ASHS member to testify—a challenge with so much competition for public exposure.
Capitol Hill Visit Set for May 10
ASHS’ congressional and federal agency meetings are on tap in the near future This will take place when the ASHS Board members gather for their annual spring meeting at Alexandria. Thursday, May 10, has been selected for this latest round of meet-and-greet sessions on Capitol Hill and at USDA. Appointment requests have been submitted to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Undersecretary for Research Catherine Woteki, as well as key congressional Members overseeing agriculture research funding. As in prior years, several House and Senate Members on our list also represent districts where ASHS Board members are constituents. Of special note in a major election year, this preliminary schedule is crafted with a wide range of bipartisan issues in mind, especially with renewal of legislation covering so many sectors where research will play a crucial role.
Published in the March 2012 ASHS Newsletter.