Senate OKs ag approps bill, now on recess | TSLN.com

Senate OKs ag approps bill, now on recess

After approving a "minibus" of appropriations bills, including the fiscal year 2019 Agriculture appropriations bill, the Senate has recessed until Aug. 15 at noon.

The Senate voted 92-6 to pass a bill that in addition to funding the Agriculture Department and related agencies, provides funding for the Transportation, Interior and House and Urban Development departments as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he hopes to pass the Defense and Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations bills later in August and to conference all the passed bills with the House in September.

But President Donald Trump has threatened a government shutdown when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30 if Congress does not pass immigration enforcement, border security and border wall measures to his satisfaction.

Ag appropriations highlights

Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., highlighted several provisions in the Agriculture bill included in the minibus. He noted that in addition to maintaining support for crop insurance and other farm bill programs, the bill also:

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• Continues funding Hoeven's Agriculture Risk Coverage pilot program to allow for an alternate calculation method for crop payments when National Agricultural Statistics Service data is insufficient.

• Maintains funding for the Hoeven Water Bank initiative, which provides compensation for farmers and landowners for flooded land through 10-year, voluntary conservation agreements.

• Fully funds the expected demand for farm direct and guaranteed and emergency loans.

• Prohibits the closure of Farm Service Agency county offices and provides funding to hire additional FSA loan officers.

• Includes the Acre-for-Acre Wetlands Mitigation language encouraging the Agriculture secretary to use mitigation of a natural wetland and equivalent wetlands functions with the conversion rate of 1-to-1 acreage.

• Provides no less than $250,000 in Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service funding to reduce blackbird depredation in the Northern Great Plains.

• Includes School Pulse Crop language emphasizing the nutritional benefits of pulse crops for children and encouraging USDA's Food and Nutrition Service to assist schools in sourcing and serving pulses.

• Increases funding for the Agricultural Marketing Service to help provide producers with marketing opportunities for U.S. agricultural products.

Research funding

Hoeven noted that the bill provides $2.726 billion to support agricultural research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), including:

• $405 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

• Formula research funding for land-grant universities.

• $1 million in ARS funding for the following: Pulse Crop Health Initiative; Chronic Wasting Disease; Sugarbeets; Alfalfa Research; Small Grain Genomics.

• Funding at $3 million for UAS Precision Agriculture and $8.7 million for the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative.

Rural development

Hoeven also noted that the bill:

• Provides $425 million for the rural broadband loan and grant pilot program targeted to areas that currently lack access to broadband service.

• Provides $1.25 billion for rural water and waste program loans, $800 million for water and waste grants, and $19 million for the Circuit Rider program.

• Provides $59 million for the FDA to expand efforts to identify and interdict illicit drugs, such as fentanyl, at international mailing facilities. Provides $20 million for Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants to help rural communities combat the opioid abuse crisis.

• Includes language to allow Project Tundra and Allam Cycle to be eligible for the Rural Utilities Service Electric Loan Program.

Other notable provisions

• Stop the Food and Drug Administration from requiring "added sugar" labeling for maple syrup and honey.

• Require a study of how to prevent algal blooms.

• Require a study of how volcanic eruptions affect farmers in Hawaii.

• Increase funding for the National Organic Program from $12 million to $15 million.

'Milk' amendment rejected

The Senate rejected by a vote of 14 to 84 an amendment offered by Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., that would have stopped the FDA from proceeding with a rewrite of standards of identity that may threaten the ability of nondairy food companies' use of the term "milk."

The National Milk Producers Federation, which has been encouraging the FDA to crack down on the use of "milk" on nondairy items because the official FDA definition says that milk must come from a "lactating" animal, said it was "very pleased" with the vote against the "blatant attempt to interfere with the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to enforce standards of identity for dairy products and other foods."

NMPF credited Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, with leading the campaign to defeat the amendment. F

–The Hagstrom Report