FY2006 Department of Agriculture Appropriations (11-11-05)

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The primary interests for the geoscience community in the Department of Agriculture appropriations are the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

The NRCS (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) works with conservation districts, watershed groups, and the federal and state agencies having related responsibilities to bring about physical adjustments in land use that will conserve soil and water resources, provide for agricultural production on a sustained basis, and reduce damage by flood and sedimentation. The NRCS, with its dams, debris basins, and planned watersheds, provides technical advice to the agricultural conservation programs, and through these programs, works to minimize pollution. The long-term objectives of the NRCS are to maintain and improve the soil, water, and related resources of the nation's nonpublic lands by reducing excessive soil erosion, improving irrigation efficiencies, improving water management, reducing upstream flood damage, improving range conditions, and improving water quality.

As the chief scientific agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the 1,700 ARS scientists stationed at about 100 locations in the United States and five other countries work to find -- and make available -- solutions to high-priority problems facing the nation's agricultural interests. The scientists work to protect and improve soil, water and other natural resources.

For analysis of hearings held by Congress on Department of Agriculture appropriations, click here.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 Department of Agriculture Appropriations Process

Account

FY05 Enacted
($million)

House Action
($million)

Senate Action
($million)

U.S. Department of Agriculture (total)

85,126

99,562

99,652

100,158

100,157

Natural Resources Conservation Service

3,196

2,723

2,823

2,837

2,795

--Watershed Surveys and Planning

7

5

7

5

6

--Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations

75

0

60

60

75

Agricultural Research Service

1,247

1,162

1,124

1,270

1,266

--Research and Information

1,102

996

1,035

1,109


1,135

--Soil, Water and Air Sciences (Environmental Stewardship)

173

178

178

178


178


President's Request for FY 2006

The president's proposed fiscal year (FY) 2006 budget would reduce the total budget authority for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to $129.3 billion, a 3.4 % decrease relative to last year's funding of $133.8 billion. Total outlays would fall roughly $300 billion, from $94.9 billion estimated for FY 2005 to $94.6 billion requested for FY 2006. Of these outlays, requested discretionary spending totals $16.74 billion. The total listed as the President's request in the table above corresponds to what the President requested for the whole Agriculture Appropriations Bill, which also funds smaller, related agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Within the Agriculture Department alone, the largest reductions were proposed for the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, a 10.7% decrease (from last year's funding of $40.5 billion to a proposed budget of $35.2 billion); the Research, Education, and Economics division, a 12.9% decrease (from $2.9 billion to $2.3 billion); and Natural Resources and Environment, a 15% decrease (from $3.2 billion to $2.7 billion). Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services would receive an 8.4% increase, mostly for the Food Stamp Program and Food Safety would get a small increase.

For Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, the largest proposed reductions are for farm subsidies, through a 5% reduction on all payments and a proposed lower cap of $250,000 from the current cap of $360,000. The reductions in subsidies are partly meant to remove loopholes that allow some large farming operations to collect multiple payments.

For the Natural Resources and Environment accounts, the President's proposals would decrease funding for Conservation Operations, watershed projects and Grassland Reserve Programs while increasing funding for Wetlands Reserve Programs and the Conservation Security Program. The Conservation Operations would be trimmed by 7.6% from last year's funding level of $831 million to a proposed level of $768 million. Watershed Surveys and Planning would be cut by 29% from $7 million to $5 million. The Watershed Rehabilitation Program would be nearly halved by 44% from $27 million to $15 million and Resource Conservation and Development would be essentially halved by 49% from $51 million to $26 million. The Grassland Reserve Program would be eliminated (last year it received $128 million) while the Wetlands Reserve Program would gain 17% over last year's funding of $275 million to a proposed budget of $321 million. The largest increase would go to the Conservation Security Program (CSP), a gain of almost 36% from $202 million last year to a proposed $274 million. CSP, as authorized in the Farm Bill, provides financial and technical assistance to tribal and private agricultural producers to support conservation plans. The shift of funds within the Natural Resources and Environment accounts supports one of the strategic goals of the administration to focus on cooperative conservation programs to improve the conservation and management of private lands.

The Research, Education, and Economics program would be trimmed by 13% for a proposed budget of $2.3 billion relative to last year's total funding of $2.7 billion. Funding for Formula Grants would be reduced while funding for National Research Initiative Competitive Grants (NRI) would be increased and a new grant program for Regional, State and Local Grants Program would receive $75 million. The shift of funds is meant to gradually eliminate grants allocated to specific institutions (Formula Grants) and to gradually increase competitive grants available to any institution after peer-review. Funding for the Environmental Stewardship program that includes research to manage and conserve the nation's soil, water and air resources would increase from $173 million to $178 million with $1.8 million more for air and water quality research and $3.2 million more for research in support of the President's Climate Change Research Initiative. The Water Quality program, funded at $13 million last year and the Food Safety program funded at $15 million last year would be eliminated and other research programs such as Sustainable Agriculture would receive small cuts. Funding for the Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative would jump from last year's $9 million to a proposed $35 million for FY06. The funds would go toward a Regional Diagnostic Network and Higher Education Agrosecurity.

No funding for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or for Emergency Watershed Protection was proposed, although last year these programs cost a total of $300 million. The administration felt that they could not predict the overall costs of these emergency programs, although they acknowledge the need to fund them.

For more about President Bush's commitment to cooperative conservation, please see USDA press release (No. 0045.05) from February 9, 2005.

To learn more, the USDA funding overview is available online. A summary of the proposed budget for the Natural Resources and Environment account is available by clicking here. A summary of the proposed budget for Research, Education, and Economics is available here. (2/25/05)

House Action

On June 8, 2005, the House passed a $99.652 billion agriculture spending bill by a 408-18 vote. The bill includes $16.83 billion in discretionary spending for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the same as the FY 2005 level and a $93 million increase over the President's request. Representatives Anthony Weiner (D-NY), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and John Sweeny (R-NY) proposed amendments to the bill, all of which were adopted. Weiner's amendment increased the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) budget by $19 million through cutting budgets of other programs. Sweeny's amendment prohibits funds for the investigation of horse slaughtering houses, while Hinchey's amendment prohibits the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from granting conflict of interest waivers to advisory committee members. Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) proposed and passed an amendment that increases funding for the Watershed Rehabilitation Program by $20 million.

Natural Resource Conservation Service

The Appropriations Committee gave the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) a budget of $940 million (not including Farm Security and Rural Investment Programs), allowing $774 million of the budget to go towards Conservation Operations, a decrease of $37 million below FY2005 levels, and $25 million above the budget request. Overall, the NRCS received over $60 million in budget cuts, which will limit the number of conservation programs to well below the number authorized by the farm bill. Further limitations to the farm bill are of concern to farmland conservation groups who have already seen budget cuts of $3.8 billion below the levels implemented by the landmark agriculture authorization. The NRCS's watershed survey and planning program gained $2 million above FY2005 funding levels, coming in at just over $7 million. This program works with local sponsoring organizations to develop plans on watersheds dealing with water quality, flooding, water and land management, and sedimentation problems. These plans then form the basis for installing needed improvements.

The House recognized the importance of the watershed and flood prevention operations, which the Administration had proposed to eliminate. The House funded these programs at $60 million, a cut of $15 million below FY2005 levels. The Watershed Operations program provides technical and financial support to local communities for the planning, designing, and construction of flood protection, water supply, and water quality improvement projects.

Agricultural Research Service

The Agricultural Research Service was funded at $1.124 billion in the bill, a $164 million increase above the FY2005 level and $63 million above the President's request. For FY2006, conservation operation activities received an increase of $26 million over the President's request, bringing total funding to $794 million, a decrease of $37 million below the FY2005 budget. Research and Information was reduced by $43 million, with funding for FY2006 totaling $996 million. The National Research Initiative (NRI) was granted an appropriation of just under $215 million an increase of $35 million relative to the FY2005 budget and a decrease of $35 million below the President's budget request. The Committee anticipates that FY 2005 funding levels for the following competitive grants will be maintained in FY2006: Water Quality; Food Safety; Regional Pest Management Centers; Crops at Risk from FQPA Implementation; FQPA Risk Mitigation for Major Food Crop Systems; Methyl Bromide Transition Program; and the Organic Transition Program. For FY2006 the House gave Soil, Water and Air Sciences a budget that matched the President's request, but one that falls $5 million below the FY2005 budget. Funding for Soil, Water and Air Sciences falls under Environmental Stewardship, which emphasizes the development of technology and scientific knowledge through research that allows producers to manage, conserve, and protect the nation's soil, water, and air resources while optimizing agricultural productivity.

The text of the bill (H.R. 2744) and the committee report (109-102) is available at thomas.loc.gov.

The House of Representatives considered funding for the Department of Agriculture in the Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Chaired by Representative Bonilla (R-TX), other subcommittee members include Reps. Kingston (R-GA), Latham (R-IA), Emerson (R-MO), Goode (R-VA), LaHood (R-IL), Doolittle (R-CA), Alexander (R-LA), DeLauro (D-CT), Hinchey (D-NY), Farr (D-CA), Boyd (D-FL) and Kaptur (D-OH).

Senate Action

The Senate passed their agriculture spending bill, 97-2, on September 22, 2005 with two minor amendments that did not affect funding levels. Disputes to be worked out in conference with the House will likely focus on policy differences rather than funding conflicts. The $100.2 billion Senate bill for the Department of Agriculture includes about $1.5 billion for the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies and $17.35 billion in discretionary spending, which tops President Bush's request by roughly $585 million and would provide an increase of just under $500 million from FY 2005. During the Senate Appropriations Committee mark-up of the bill on June 23, 2005, ranking member Robert Byrd (D-WV) reported that the bill was fiscally "tight" due to budget cuts on domestic programs made by President Bush. Overall, funding for agricultural programs increased by $8.4 billion, conservation programs decreased by $27 million, and rural development programs increased by $120 million compared to FY 2005. Funding for research and education provided by the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service declined 0.5% while extension activities rose 1.8%. The National Research Initiative would receive $55.8 million in funding for competitively awarded research grants. Although the President proposed a program shift, the Senate chose to increase the program's budget by nearly 6%.

Natural Resource Conservation Service

The Senate Appropriations Committee gave the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) a budget of $943.2 million (not including $2 billion for Farm Security and Rural Investment Programs), of which $819 million would fund Conservation Operations, a decrease of $21 million below FY2005 levels, and $52 million above the budget request.

Watershed surveys and planning were cut almost $2 million below the House bill and FY2005 levels. The committee was concerned that watershed surveys and planning is not being completed in a timely manner as indicated by a backlog of incomplete watershed projects. The Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) would be directed to evaluate and rank existing projects that are most promising for completion. The Senate would not provide funding for any new planning.

The Conservation Security Program (CSP) was created in the 2002 farm bill to provide "green payments" to farmers using conservation practices. The Senate decided to cap funding from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) at $264 million. The House also capped funding for this program, providing $6 million less than the Senate.

Resources conservation and development would not be changed from the FY2005 level of $51.2 million. Conservation operations would receive $51.8 million above the budget estimate for FY2006 that will be divided among conservation projects across the country. The committee specifically pledged support for the Chesapeake Bay Program and advocated technical assistance for farmers and local governments in the bay watershed.

Agricultural Research Service

The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $1.27 billion for the Agricultural Research Service. This is almost $8 million more than FY2005 and $108 million more than the President requested. The committee called for increased funding for ongoing research projects to prevent the agency from "further erosion." ARS will not be allowed to transfer funds between states without permission from Congress.

Research and information funding was increased by $7 million, surpassing the President's request by $13 million. Soil, water, and air sciences would receive the $178 million requested by the President and equally recommended by the House.

Rural Development Programs

Funding for grants and loans to encourage renewable energy use was increased by $1 million above the current year spending. The committee recommended $23 million, surpassing the President's request by $13 million. The Department of Agriculture will be encouraged to give special consideration for grant and loan requests submitted by the Ethanol Feedlot Project, Grant Parish Biofuels Facility, and the Fractionation Development Center.

The Senate increased funding for the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program by $26.5 million above current levels. The program, facing budget reductions from the House, provides matching grants for the purchase of development rights (PDR) on agricultural lands.

The text of the bill (H.R. 2744) and the committee report (109-92) are available at thomas.loc.gov.

The United States Senate Appropriations Committee is chaired by Senator Bennett (R-UT). Other members include Senators Cochran (R-MS), Specter (R-PA), Bond (R-MO), McConnell (R-KY), Burns (R-MT), Craig (R-ID), Brownback (R-KS), Kohl (D-WI), Harkin (D-IA), Dorgan (D-ND), Feinstein (D-CA), Durbin (D-IL), Johnson (D-SD) and Landrieu (D-LA).

Conference Committee Action

House and Senate conferees agreed to a $100.2 billion Agriculture appropriations bill on October 26, 2005. This bill does not include key USDA agencies such as the Forest Service, which is funded by the Interior and Related Agencies appropriations bill. The Agriculture appropriations bill also includes $1.8 billion in funding for the Food and Drug Administration, which is not part of the USDA. The bill was passed by the House 318-63 on October 28, and by the Senate 81-18 on November 3. $17.1 billion of the appropriations is for discretionary spending, an increase of $400 million above the president's request, and $300 million above FY 2005 levels. Mandatory spending accounted for $83.1 billion of the appropriations total, $300 million above the president's request and $14.9 billion above last year's level. $40 billion of the mandatory spending is for food stamps. The conferees cut some funds from the House and Senate versions of the bill, particularly in conservation programs, where the conference committee chose the lower number from the two bills across the board. Two controversial riders introduced during conference negotiations, one that would have exempted agricultural operations from environmental reporting laws, and another to limit appeals of Forest Service projects, failed to make the final report.

Natural Resource Conservation Service

The conference committee gave the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) a budget of $901.2 million (not including $2 billion for Farm Security and Rural Investment Programs), of which $819 million would fund Conservation Operations, which is near the FY2005 levels, and $32 million above the president's request.

The conference agreement provided watershed surveys and planning with $6 million, a compromise between the Senate and House numbers and a million dollar cut from FY 2005 levels. Reflecting concerns expressed in the Senate bill about a project backlog, the committee directed the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to evaluate and rank existing projects that are most promising for completion. No funding was provided for planning new projects.

The Conservation Security Program (CSP), which was created in the 2002 farm bill to provide "green payments" to farmers using conservation practices, was funded at $259 million, $5 million less than the Senate had allocated for the program.

Resources conservation and development would not be changed from the FY 2005 level of $51.2 million. Conservation operations would receive $10 million above the budget estimate for FY 2006 that will be divided among conservation projects across the country.

Agricultural Research Service

The bill provides $1.266 billion for the Agricultural Research Service. This is almost $19 million more than FY 2005 and $104 million more than the president requested. The committee called for increased funding for ongoing research projects to prevent the agency from "further erosion." The agreement would prohibit ARS from transferring funds between states without permission from Congress.

Research and information funding was increased by $33 million, surpassing the president's request by $139 million. Soil, water, and air sciences would receive $178 million, as requested by the president and endorsed by the House and the Senate.

Rural Development Programs

The conference report includes language from the Senate that increases grants and loans for renewable energy projects by $1 million above FY 2005 spending. The committee recommended a total of $23 million for the renewable energy program, surpassing the president's request by $13 million.

The text of the bill (H.R. 2744) and the conference report (109-255) are available at thomas.loc.gov.

Appropriations Hearings

  • April 6, 2005: House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA, and Related Agencies, Hearing on USDA Natural Resources and Environmental Programs Budget

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA, and Related Agencies
Hearing on USDA Natural Resources and Environmental Programs Budget
April 6, 2005

Witnesses:
Mark Rey, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Bruce Knight, Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Related Agencies met with Mark Rey, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and Bruce Knight, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to discuss the FY 2006 Budget Proposal for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The NRCS is the primary federal agency that works with private landowners to help them conserve, maintain and improve their natural resources. The NRCS proposed budget for discretionary and mandatory spending is $2.7 billion, a 15% decrease from the $3.2 billion enacted in FY 2005. The proposal would reduce funding for watershed and grassland reserve projects while increasing resources for wetlands restoration and the Conservation Security Program (CEP). In their opening statements, Chairman Bonillo expressed concern over the cuts to watershed efforts, while Ranking Member DeLauro feared that the proposed changes would negatively impact water resource management and watershed planning in the northeast. She said the President's plan favors certain geographic regions over others, and fails to address a growing backlog of unfunded federal watershed projects.

Knight's testimony focused on the $626 million proposed for Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA), an overarching program that offers landowners conservation planning and implementation tools. Key increases planned for the CTA account include a $37.2 million increase to support compliance in animal feeding regulations and $10 million to control invasive species. Watershed Surveys and Planning (WSP), cut from $7 million to $5 million, would "focus funding…to help 40 communities complete their watershed planning efforts." The administration would terminate funding for watershed and flood prevention operations, because similar flood programs within the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were more effective, according to Knight.

DeLauro stated that the changes in the budget plan fail to strike an appropriate balance between conservation needs and support for industry. Rey responded to this claim by insisting that the budget priorities were determined by what programs would offer the greatest environmental benefit. But other members agreed that eliminating funding for some locally-sponsored cooperative watershed rehabilitation efforts (PL-566 programs) would be inappropriate. Bonilla quoted Rey from a hearing regarding funding of PL-566 programs last year, in which he said "it would be a waste of investment to stop funding in mid-stream". This time around, Rey ensured the members that a top priority in FY06 is to bring watershed projects to completion, and that no structural projects would be eliminated.

In a similar vein, the administration also proposes to phase out federal support for local Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) councils, which help local governments support their own conservation programs. According to Rey, councils that have received federal seed money for over 20 years will be able to cover their own overhead, and "graduate from the federal incubator." DeLauro challenged this rationale, responding that without advanced word of this plan, the councils would not be able to address their funding needs. Rep. Farr agreed that cuts should be based on land use and economics, rather than longevity. Indeed, Rey said that the agency did not have a good idea of what RC&Ds would be forced to close due to inadequate funding.

-KCA

Sources: United States Department of Agriculture, U.S. House of Representatives website, United States Senate website, E & E Daily, Soil Science Society of America website.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program; Linda Rowan, AGI Director of Government Affairs; Amanda Schneck, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Anne Smart, AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Peter Douglas, AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.

Last Update November 11, 2005