How Did Sustainable Agriculture Fare in this Year’s Spending Package?

Despite talk of budget cuts in the news recently, there were some big wins for sustainable agriculture in this year’s proposed congressional spending package.

After several months of deliberations and many delays, Congress recently came to an agreement on FY 2017 funding, which will keep the government up and running until September 30th of this year. The spending bill, also known as “omnibus,” is a package of 12 individual bills bundled together that fund different agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

While the proposed package is quite lengthy, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) recently released an in-depth breakdown of the many victories (and some losses) included in this year’s proposed spending package.

According to NSAC’s analysis, Congress rejected numerous cuts and increased funding for many programs that are vital in assisting farmers who are farming sustainably.

Here’s a closer look at some of the important programs funded in this year’s package. 

  • There was a nine percent increase in funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE).  This competitive grant research program helps farmers research new ways to implement sustainable farming methods. In the past, the USDA has only been able to fund seven percent of those who apply to the program; this low funding level, according to NSAC, means that  “agricultural advances have been stymied and family farmers have missed out on new innovations that could help them adopt and enhance sustainable farming systems.” The 2017 proposed funding levels were the highest the program has ever seen – at $27 million.
  • Under USDA’s Conservation Operations budget, which increased from $850.9 million to $864.5 million, the government provides technical assistance to those implementing conservation activities in farming, ranching, and foresting.  
  • Congress maintained levels of funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). This program provides grants and loans for farmers who are implementing energy conservation practices and renewable energy generation.
  • There were no cuts to the Organic Transitions research program, which maintained funding at $4 million.  This program supports research in organics to increase the competitiveness of organic farmers.
  • Congress maintained farm bill funding levels and rejected cuts to the Conservation Stewardship Program, which according to NSAC will “will be able to help farmers increase efficiency and improve and protect natural resources by enrolling 10 million acres of working lands this fiscal year.”
  • Finally, veteran farmers also received a win in this year’s proposed spending package with increased funding under the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. There was a 10 percent increase in funding under this program, which will help train veterans to farm sustainably.

Fortunately, the proposed spending package has no mention of two legislative riders that we at Fair Farms were concerned about.  The first is the GIPSA rider, which would have prevented the USDA from implementing necessary rules for the protection of contract farmers in their negotiations with multi-national companies.  The second is a legislative rider to block the USDA from implementing the new organic animal welfare rule. The USDA’s rule, finalized earlier this year, will create clear animal welfare standards for organic producers, allowing consumers to have a better picture of the production practices behind the food they purchase.  Hopefully both of these riders have been put to rest and will not resurface in the final FY 2017 funding package.

Over the next few weeks, Congress will need to pass the proposed funding package out of both the House and Senate. The measure will then be sent to President Trump for his signature.

Fair Farms plans to watchdog these efforts and keep you informed as the budget process unfolds. It is our hope that we will have more victories to report in the coming weeks and months.