More Federal Funding for Sustainable Agriculture
This blog is reposted from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), of which, CalCAN is a member. View the original post here.
On March 15th President Biden signed H.R. 2471, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022, also known as the fiscal year (FY) 2022 Omnibus, after significant delays in the appropriations process. These delays resulted in three previous stopgap funding bills to keep the government running in the meantime, known as Continuing Resolutions (CR). The omnibus provides funding through FY 2022, which started on October 1, 2021, and ends in September 2022. In the interim, the federal government was operating on a series of CRs that kept government funding at FY 2021 levels.
In this blog post, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) examines the content of the FY 2022 agriculture appropriations bill and how NSAC’s appropriations priorities fared in the process.
Sustainable Agriculture and Food System Priorities
The FY 2022 agriculture spending portion of the omnibus provides $25.125 billion in discretionary funding for food and agriculture programs which represents a $1.73 billion increase (7.4%) above the FY21 enacted level. However, the FY22 bill includes funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) which occurs in even-numbered fiscal years. When accounting for the inclusion of CFTC, FY22 funding amounts to a 6% increase over the FY21 enacted level.
Overall, NSAC is pleased to see significant increases in several critical priority areas to strengthen the resilience of rural communities and bolster sustainable food systems. One of the biggest highlights for NSAC was the inclusion of $45 million for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) only competitive research program focused entirely on farmer-led sustainable agriculture research and education. The $45 million provided to SARE is a record high for the program, which is authorized at $60 million.
Another win for sustainable agriculture was the inclusion of $14 million for the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) which had not received federal funding since 2008. GLCI provides local and regional resources for farmers and ranchers interested in best grazing management practices. This includes technical support, education, rancher to rancher learning, and funding for partnerships between the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and grazing-focused organizations.
NSAC’s analysis of the FY 2022 agriculture spending package, including how our sustainable agriculture and food system priorities fared, is organized below into the following core issue areas:
- Conservation, Climate and Renewable Energy
- Local Food and Rural Development
- Beginning, Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers
- Research and Food Safety
- Farm Credit and Support Services
For a detailed breakdown of FY 2022 funding levels, download our updated appropriations chart.
Conservation, Climate and Renewable Energy
The FY 2022 agriculture spending bill includes $759 million for Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA). CTA is the backbone of USDA’s conservation programs. Through CTA, NRCS field staff work with farmers to develop and implement conservation plans to conserve resources on their farms and fulfill conservation compliance requirements. The CTA funding specifically includes $14 million dedicated to the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) which had not received federal funding since 2008. In the past GLCI has funded state-based initiatives that allowed regional partnerships to flourish between livestock and conservation groups while allowing for specialized grazing expertise at local NRCS offices. The CTA funding also includes $1 million for a new soil health working lands resiliency program and $3 million for NRCS’s work related to the USDA’s Climate Hubs.
The FY 2022 spending bill also provides additional funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) in addition to the $50 million per year in mandatory funding provided by the 2018 Farm Bill. REAP provides grants and loan guarantees to farmers and rural businesses to implement wind, solar, and other renewable energy systems, and also provides resources for energy audits and renewable resources development. The FY 2022 spending bill includes an additional $12.5 million in discretionary funding for grants and $420,000 in capital to support the loan guarantee portion of REAP.
It is also noteworthy that thanks to the end of discretionary sequestration, once again appropriators did not need to cut mandatory funding from any of the farm bill’s major working lands conservation programs – including the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). In years past, when fiscally constrained by austere budget caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2010, appropriators cut mandatory funding from conservation programs to pay for other priorities.
Local Food and Rural Development
The omnibus package includes a number of wins for local and regional food systems, healthy food access, and rural development. Several NSAC priority programs were provided with modest increases as part of this year’s spending package.
The 2018 Farm Bill created the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), a program championed by NSAC, which combined the existing Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and the Value-Added Producers Grant Program (VAPG), while also creating the new Regional Food Systems Partnership Program. Under LAMP, both VAPG and FMLFPP are provided with permanent mandatory funding; however, in creating LAMP, FMLFPP was provided with $5.3 million less in annual mandatory funding compared to the 2014 Farm Bill. VAPG was provided with a small increase in mandatory funding relative to 2014 Farm Bill, but that increase is far less than the program’s historic funding levels. Over the life of the 2014 Farm Bill, VAPG received on average $25.9 million in combined mandatory and discretionary funding per year, whereas under the 2018 Farm Bill, VAPG is provided with only $17.5 million in mandatory funding per year.
Recognizing the continued importance of these keystone local food and entrepreneurship programs, congressional appropriators included an additional $13 million for VAPG and $7.4 million for FMLFPP. The omnibus also included $26 million for the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) and $8.5 million for the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Forms of Production.
Beginning, Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers
The 2018 Farm Bill created the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program to strengthen USDA’s assistance to beginning, veteran, tribal, and other underserved farmers. FOTO combines two of USDA’s flagship training and technical assistance programs – the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (aka “Section 2501”).
In combining the funding and authorizations for BFRDP and 2501, Congress was able to provide both programs with permanent baseline funding. However, to do so, each program took a cut from historic funding levels in the first few years of the new program but were stair-stepped up to an historic high, ending with $50 million in mandatory funding for FOTO in FY 2023.
The FY 2022 omnibus includes $4 million in discretionary funding for FOTO, to be split equally between BFRDP and 2501, this is in addition to the $40 million in mandatory farm bill funding for FY 2022 that is also split equally between BFRDP and 2501.
Research and Food Safety
NSAC applauds appropriators for providing the SARE program with $45 million, a $5 million increase over the previous fiscal year. The Organic Transitions (ORG) research program also received a $500,000 increase bringing the program’s funding level to $7.5 million for FY 2022. ORG supports research to improve the competitiveness of organic farming by providing research and technical information to farmers who are either newly adopting organic practices or transitioning producers, enabling them to better understand the economic and environmental benefits of organic production.
The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), USDA’s flagship competitive grant research program, received an additional $10 million in funding, bringing total funding to $445 million for FY2022. This continues a trend of significant year-to-year increases for agriculture research.
The Food Safety Outreach Program was once again provided full discretionary funding of $10 million for FY 2022.
Farm Credit and Support Services
Access to credit is critical for farmers, particularly for those just beginning their careers and for producers not well served by the commercial lending sector. Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan programs fill the lending gap by providing financing for producers unable to secure credit from private lenders. For decades, these programs have increased access to credit for small and mid-size family farms and for operations run by beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers.
The FY 2022 spending levels for both the FSA Guaranteed and Direct Operating loans, as well as for Guaranteed Farm Ownership loans saw small increases relative to FY 2021:
- Direct Operating Loans: $1.633 billion
- Direct Farm Ownership Loans: $2.8 billion
- Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loans: $3.5 billion
- Guaranteed Operating Loans: $2.1184 billion
The FY 2023 Appropriations Process
Although the FY22 appropriations process has just come to an end, the FY23 appropriations process is already in full swing. On March 28th President Biden released the President’s Budget Request (PBR) which outlines the Administration’s spending priorities for the coming fiscal year. You can view NSAC’s FY23 appropriations priorities here. Stay tuned for a more in-depth post looking at the PBR and our work around the FY 2023 appropriations cycle.