News from Capitol Hill.
It was good seeing many of you again at the annual conference in Miami. Great turnout and lots of great seminars. The National Issues Task Force seminar headed by Chair Thomas Björkman summarized ASHS congressional advocacy efforts, including the latest research funding numbers and many other topics. There was general discussion about potential new avenues for policy outreach, ideas on promoting ASHS’ new Center for Horticultural Research Impact Statements (CHRIS), which documents research success stories, and thoughts on educating the general public about horticulture’s inherent value for personal and economic health.
Unfortunately, the 2012 Farm Bill is still in a holding pattern. That will likely remain the case as Congress is on their month-long recess. Upon their return after Labor Day, we await passage by the House of Representatives of their farm bill version, HR 6083, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012. Passage there would then initiate conference with the Senate-passed bill, S. 3240, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012. Congress being Congress, “hurry up and wait” still prevails until House and Senate leaders get together and resolve their differences. This does not reference the “Big Four” of the respective agriculture panels—Sens. Stabenow (MI) and Roberts (KS), and Reps. Lucas (OK) and Peterson (MN). Except for major differences in funding nutrition assistance programs, these lawmakers are pretty much in sync on items included in a new bill. The main obstacle now, as its been for the past month, remains the House Speaker and House Majority Leader. They have yet to schedule a formal vote on HR 6083, which Chairman Lucas and his panel approved on July 11.
Current talk on Capitol Hill is that House and Senate agriculture leaders may proceed and attempt a conference just before or right after Labor Day—thus sending that conference report to both chambers for full votes. That might help obviate the current delay in the House. Whichever procedure is adopted, intra- and extramural research funding should be safe. Throughout this process, Titles VII (Research) and X (Horticulture/Organic—the ones of immediate concern to ASHS—have not been politically contentious on either side of the aisle. Farm Bill policies are for the most part bipartisan. Every state and district has some form of agriculture. So keeping ag-policy free from the vicissitudes of political warfare is always a good thing.
Hence the current state of farm bill legislation. The bill’s figures remain unchanged from previous updates, at least until conference. Meanwhile, several other issues were raised during and immediately following the
ASHS conference in Miami. These items are important both from an administrative and awards standpoint. The first deals with budget submission and reporting. That is a new requirement Congress inserted in both farm bill versions to better track USDA’s investment of federal research dollars. The second issue concerns uniform matching grants for all NIFA programs, and the third concerns a dual track awards review process for SCRI applications. Spirited discussion with these issues led to two meetings for ASHS the week after the annual conference. On August 7, ASHS met with two congressional staffers. Both went extremely well. The first was with John Goldberg, Staff Scientist for the House Agriculture Committee. A creative discussion of ideas between agriculture policymakers and researchers. ASHS members John Lea-Cox, Chris Walsh, [and by phone] Jim McFerson, and Thomas Björkman shared the Society’s issues with Goldberg as follows:
- Uniform Matching for NIFA
No problem with uniform matching grants for SCRI and OREI, but separate matching requirements are needed for AFRI, as the goal of that program is to advance basic agricultural science versus addressing specific applied issues. Hence, more individual-based research approaches with AFRI.
- Budget Submission/Reporting
ASHS supports budget submission/reporting’s transparency requirements so long as individual awards for each individual researcher are not adversely impacted.
- SCRI Dual Track Review Panels
Discussions between ASHS and a member of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance led to a breakthrough agreement for dual-track SCRI review panels—one consisting solely of industry representatives—but with the important caveat that proposed industry (“relevance”) review panels go before the merit review process. Merit review currently exists under auspices of NIFA and consists of research scientists, industry representatives, and other officials. ASHS also believes any new SCRI relevance review panel should be managed by NIFA so that ideas and criteria are efficiently coordinated and implemented.
ASHS’ meeting with Goldberg, whose background also includes a stint as a plant science researcher, covered these topics in great detail. In summary, this influential staffer for NIFA and ARS programs confirmed that budget submission/reporting would pertain primarily to USDA and other federal agencies, not to specific individuals or grants. He also said careful consideration would be given by the committee to ASHS proposals with the uniform matching issue vis-a-vis AFRI, and the sequence of SCRI’s dual panel review process. Note as of this update, as House/Senate farm bills wind their way toward conference: SCRI dual panel review and uniform matching are in House bill language, but not in the Senate version. However, a decision was made by the NITF that ASHS should offer support for those two items—based on extensive discussions of how best to promote them—in the event Senate conferees agree to adopt House language in those areas. These three topics were also front and center on thew meeting agenda with a Senate Agriculture staffer. She expressed interest regarding ASHS views, and requested official statements for possible submission during a farm bill conference. Rest assured your society will act upon this staffer’s generous request!
For these next few weeks, ASHS’ primary task is to stay in touch with Capitol Hill staffers to ensure the society’s interests continue to receive fair hearings when farm bill deliberations resume. Whatever the outcome this November, there is definite bipartisan consensus in Congress to get farm bill renewal completed before the end of 2012. A new Congress with a host of new members will convene in January 2013. Much is at stake for all sectors of the agriculture economy with this inevitable changing of the legislative guard. Sectors that rely on the farm bill’s statutory guidelines and authorized funding levels to carry out programs for the growth, production, and distribution of our food, fiber, and fuel resources are of obvious importance. Scientific research remains the foundation for making this happen.
-Jonathan Moore, ASHS National Issues Consultant
published in the August 2012 ASHS Newsletter
Jonathan Moore, ASHS National Issues Consultant, highlights some of the differences between the House and Senate versions of a new farm bill . . .
—Jonathan Moore, ASHS National Issues Consultant
As of this update, uncertainty seems to reign on a new Farm Bill, though hearings and intra-party meetings still seek a path to some kind of solution. Hopefully, lawmakers will reach agreement by the June/July timeframe. On such a major piece of bipartisan legislation having an impact on a huge segment of our economy, one hopes a timely resolution on a farm bill is near. In a tough fiscal environment, with mandatory budget cutting (“sequestration”) rules in place, it ultimately comes down to funding. It appears that most intra- and extramural research programs will remain intact. The questions are in the funding details. Stick with $23 billion in proposed farm bill cuts from this past November, or increase reductions to $33 billion or beyond? And how much should each agricultural sector give up? Food stamps, commodity support payments, conservation incentive programs . . . who stands to have their budget slashed the most? Through all this, it is believed that research will face smaller reductions percentage-wise than other agriculture sectors. From meetings with Capitol Hill staff, and discussions with other specialty crop groups, ag-science programs seem to have more protection based on their consistent long-term dividends. Some research areas—such as formula and extension funding—could remain at or slightly below current levels. But at least they will be funded. That is a strong recognition by Congress of their inherent and historical value. With so many competing forces descending on Capitol Hill —each with their own story of validity—it is good that research still maintains its key influential supporters from key states holding sway over agriculture policy.
In the Senate, a new farm bill is steadily moving along. A staffer I spoke with recently said their agriculture panel might even have a proposal ready toward the end of April. A helpful development for sure—not only in moving this process along, but also giving House Agriculture Committee Members an actual blueprint to work from. Most funding challenges still reside in the House. A more conservative body in this congressional session, it has a dedicated group of fiscal hawks serving on the House Agriculture Committee. Undaunted by this fact, ASHS and other horticulture advocates press ahead with the objective of ensuring that lawmakers are well aware of ag-research’s critical role in our domestic and global economy.
Balancing that message with budgetary realities is the conundrum ag-research faces in this ultra-competitive legislative climate. As reporter Ellyn Ferguson recently noted in Congressional Quarterly, whatever actions take place in Congress these next few weeks will likely determine whether a new Farm Bill is approved this year, or whether we get a one-year extension. If the latter occurs, it can only hoped that current funding numbers from FY2012 carry over into 2013. Then, of course, there will be many new faces on Capitol Hill, and possibly a new team at USDA. So, better Congress and the President get a farm bill deal worked out as soon as possible regardless of the political climate. That way, everyone whose research, marketing, and/or production guidelines rely on agriculture policy would be better able to plan ahead.
2012 Capitol Hill Visits
As we await these latest developments, it will be an interesting time for ASHS board members as they come to Washington early next month. Included in their trip will be an annual trek to Capitol Hill. These visits continue to provide valuable face time for ASHS with influential lawmakers and USDA officials. This year’s schedule is still in the preliminary planning stages, but already offers some fruitful appointments. In addition to confirmed meetings with Sen. John Bozeman (R-Arkansas) and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Georgia), meetings are also scheduled with USDA’s Undersecretary for Research Dr. Catherine Woteki, ARS Administrator Dr. Ed Knipling, NIFA’s [Acting or new] Director, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s Senior Policy Analyst. Seeking to broaden awareness with research in the ornamental plant field, a meeting with the Supervisory Horticulturist at the U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG) is also on tap. Funded directly by congressional appropriations, USBG was selected by ASHS in 2002 as a horticultural landmark. The National Issues Task Force also hopes to increase public awareness of the multiple uses of ornamental plants beyond their more traditional landscape role.
For now, its a time of anticipation, and yes, frustration as we await further developments on a new farm bill by Congress. Suffice it to say, ASHS is maintaining an intense focus on NIFA programs (SCRI, OREI, AFRI, et al.) along with Hatch, Evans–Allen, and Smith–Lever—all essential elements in the foundational and competitive research structure, and cornerstones of ASHS’ advocacy agenda. Once the Senate (or House) issues their farm bill plan, further elaboration on specific numbers, their impact for research, and provide further analysis of my ongoing advocacy efforts will be shared.
Published in the April 2012 ASHS Newsletter.
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.
— Jonathan Moore, ASHS National Issues Consultant
From its release on February 13, a quick review of President Obama’s budget shows agriculture faring reasonably well in comparison with other federal agencies. There are cuts, but progress in the current climate is measured more by programs retained versus those drastically cut back or eliminated. For research, it appears most intra- and extramural programs will survive. Their funding levels remain the big question.
While ASHS and other specialty crop groups work to ward off cuts to ag research, the legislative process remains unpredictable. It’s a major election year, so even bipartisan programs as essential as food production and environmental sustainability are up for scrutiny. Additional time for farm bill deliberations means increased opportunities for touting research success stories, but also more time for other interest groups to siphon off dollars for other purposes. For now, primary focus is centered on the Senate’s Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee and its chair, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Facing reelection this year, the Chairwoman has extra incentive for getting a bill passed and signed into law. Thus, she will likely go first with a farm bill version, which will then be taken up by the House. So far, Stabenow’s staff indicates the recent template used by the now-defunct Deficit Reduction Committee—a proposal favorable to research and horticulture—will likely be the starting point for consideration. That is the current state of affairs as Congress returns to square one with multi-year reauthorization of agriculture programs. Unlike a few months ago, stricter budget “sequestration” rules now kick in, meaning a greater chance for additional cuts among all titles in a new farm bill.
Following a recent meeting with the Association of Public & Land Grant Universities (APLU), a “wish list” of research programs of prime importance for ASHS from the Society’s National Issues Task Force (NITF) was forwarded to APLU, along with other allies such as the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, the Society of American Florists, the American Nursery Landscape Association, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Programs listed are those with a direct impact on basic and applied research, and whose funding renewals are being pursued with congressional staff. Most of these programs have been re-upped in President Obama’s latest budget, and will likely receive favorable review on Capitol Hill.
ASHS’ Policy Wish List
- Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI): USDA-NIFA
- Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCGB): USDA-AMS
- Agriculture & Food Research Initiative (AFRI): USDA-NIFA
- Organic Agriculture Research & Extension Initiative (OREI): USDA-NIFA
- Pest and Disease Management: USDA-APHIS
- National Clean Plant Network: USDA-APHIS
- Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Initiative (SARE): USDA-NIFA
- Agriculture Research Service: USDA-ARS
A brief look at the budget numbers
Total FY13 funding levels for USDA’s Research, Education, & Economics (REE) agency is $2.6B, an increase of $68M over the previous year. A big chunk of that increase is directed toward the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), with proposed funding at $179M—$63M of that going for the 2012 Census of Agriculture. According to NASS Administrator Cynthia Clark, another major portion of NASS’ budget this year will be shoring up its County Estimates Program. ASHS has been a strong advocate for NASS’ funding in previous years. This trend shall continue, highlighting the importance statistics serve for planning research objectives and providing quality economic analysis.
The Agriculture Food & Research Initiative (AFRI) comes in at $325M for FY13. Super-critical funding for Hatch, Evans–Allen, and Smith–Lever (formula research and extension) comes at $235M, $93M, and $292M, respectively. Other competitive research programs, such as the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), the Organic Agriculture Research & Education Initiative (OREI), and ever-popular Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG, or Block Grants) have been tagged as mandatory budget programs. The NITF approves that mandatory designation, even though that type of funding remains the sole purview of Congress. As mentioned in a previous update, getting mandatory budget classification for SCRI, OREI, and Block Grants provides a buffer against congressional budget hawks. No hard and fast guarantees with protection, but it does provide a safe funding haven more often than not.
Following the budget’s release on February 13, USDA-REE Undersecretary Catherine Woteki briefed specialty crop groups that same day in her office. Woteki’s reviewed the numbers, with her overall view being that support for USDA-REE clearly demonstrates “a continuation of key investments for research and education.” Estimating $1 invested in research yields $20 in benefits, the Undersecretary said FY13’s budget places greater emphasis on high priority research—further promoting USDA as a first-class research agency. She also shared new missions for the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute for Food & Agriculture (NIFA). FY13 funding for ARS is $1.13B, an $8M increase over FY12’s allocation. This will cover additional ARS research in areas such as climate change and animal health, along with a capital improvements program with ARS lab facilities. FY13 discretionary funding for NIFA totals $1.24B, a $37M increase over FY12. At $325M, the Agriculture Food & Research Initiative (AFRI) takes up a sizable percentage of NIFA’s discretionary account. As USDA’s showcase program for ag research, AFRI receives the same funding level the Obama administration proposed a year ago. Also within NIFA, the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program is at $19M. ASHS’ advocacy focus on formula research and extension research is encouraging, with proposed funding for Hatch, Evans–Allen, and Smith–Lever pegged at $235M, $93M, and $262M, respectively. While formula and extension dollars have remained relatively flat in recent years, they faced even greater cuts as recently as August 2011. For mandatory NIFA programs awaiting congressional action (SCRI, OREI, biomass research, etc.), $1.3B could be added to the Institute’s overall budget later this year. Once the authorization/appropriations process is complete, look for funding levels to be somewhat lower than these latest budget figures. With AFRI as an example, less than a year ago Congress took its $325M budget proposal and eventually settled on $264M. The same for formula research and extension, which also received slight reductions for FY12 once appropriators had their say.
During Woteki’s briefing, she shared her assessment on that all-important research trifecta for ASHS: SCRI, OREI, and Block Grants. She anticipates favorable consideration of those programs by Congress, adding that specialty crop research groups must continue presenting a unified front during this competitive time for all science-based organizations with federal research investments.
Overall, research fared better in this budget compared with other agriculture sectors. Especially commodity and conservation. As for completion of farm bill reauthorization, June/July remains the current timetable. While most competitive grant programs will see some reductions, look for Specialty Crop Block Grants to show increases. Managed by USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS), block grants have been popular throughout the 5-year span of this current farm bill. Therefore, SCBG allocations could increase from the current $55M/year to $70M/year, or higher. Its popularity and success with both state and federal officials is a win–win proposition for AMS.
In succeeding weeks, ASHS’ focus will remain on the Senate side of Capitol Hill. Chairwoman Stabenow is a strong and ardent supporter of horticulture research, with staffers and constituents dedicated to her cause. Representing a top-ranked horticulture producing state, she is well aware of ag research’s unique contributions and critical needs. The same holds true following Senate action, when this farm bill process shifts to the House of Representatives and their agriculture panel, led by Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Colin Peterson (D-MN).
Published in the February 2012 ASHS Newsletter.
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