Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) for the remainder of fiscal year 2013 appropriations this week, providing funding for federal agencies through September 30 of this year. The President is expected to sign the bill into law before the March 27 deadline upon his return from overseas travel. The bill includes funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); however sequestration provisions enacted in the Budget Control Act remain in force and mandate 5.3 to 5.8 percent in cuts for USDA programs.
For conservation programs, mandatory farm bill funding was provided for several programs including the full $200 million for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program. However, the bill also included an additional 2.5 percent cut to USDA discretionary programs including Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA). When combined with earlier cuts from sequestration, this puts CTA at $768 million, which is $60 million below FY 12 levels. Many farm bill programs ranging from beginning and minority farmer programs to specialty crop and organic production programs, to rural development and renewable energy programs still do not have authorization, having expired on September 30, 2012 and therefore did not receive funding through the CR.
Congress Considers Budget Resolutions
The House and Senate this week considered their respective fiscal year 2014 budget resolutions. The cuts proposed in the budget resolutions ranges from $4 trillion over ten years in the Senate to $4.6 trillion over ten years in the House. The House passed their budget resolution on Wednesday by a 221-207 party line vote. The Senate continues to work on passing its budget resolution as of Friday afternoon. Because of the significant differences between the House and Senate budgets, it is not expected that Congress will pass a concurrent budget resolution.
Neither budget resolution is binding but they do set targets for authorizing committees such as the agriculture committees to reauthorize legislation like the farm bill.
White House Council of Economic Advisors Issues Economic Report of the President
The White House recently released its annual Economic Report of the President. Included in the report is a chapter on the agriculture sector. The report concludes that “a vibrant U.S. agricultural sector is vital for the Nation’s prosperity” and that in order to maintain the success of agriculture, we should “continue to invest in agricultural R&D, helping farmers find new ways to grow more with less and to continue their stewardship of natural resources for future generations.”
The report also points out vulnerabilities of agriculture to factors including price volatility, climate change, and changing consumption patterns.
Survey Reveals 3 Million Acres of Farmland Protected by Land Trusts
New data from American Farmland Trust’s Farmland Information Center reveal that private land trusts have permanently protected 3 million acres of U.S. farm and ranch land. Roughly a quarter was saved in partnership with state and local purchase of agricultural conservation easement (PACE) programs. Together, land trusts and public programs have protected about 5 million acres for agriculture. A small number of land trusts did most of the work: 52 land trusts protected 95 percent of the land, and 55 hold 87 percent of the easements. These organizations tend to be located in states with PACE programs, leaving parts of the country without a viable option for agricultural landowners interested in permanent protection. A Nationwide Survey of Land Trusts that Protect Farm and Ranch Land and a summary of these and other key findings is available at www.farmlandinfo.org.
Smithsonian To Collect Information on Agriculture Heritage
The National Museum of American History announced plans this week for a new multimedia exhibit on “American Enterprise” which will include material on agriculture. As part of the exhibit, the museum has launched a website for public submission of materials for a new Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive, which will eventually culminate in an 8,000-square-foot multimedia exhibit. The exhibit is planned to open in May 2015.