The Senate farm bill, S.3042, has been placed on the calendar for consideration this week, with a cloture vote scheduled for late on Monday, June 25th. Given the nearly unanimous vote for the bill coming out of the Agriculture Committee, the legislation is expected to easily obtain the 60 votes needed for floor debate to ensue.The CBO score for the bill was released last Friday, and it contained few big surprises. As with the House bill, the Senate bill is effectively budget neutral over the ten-year scoring period, actually saving $107 million. There is an unexpected savings of $2.3 billion over ten-years from a provision in the Rural Development title which allows cooperative lenders to underwrite loans for rural utility infrastructure, including electricity generation. Overall, the trade, research, energy, horticulture, and miscellaneous titles receive modest net increases in mandatory funding over ten years, and the rest are either budget neutral or experience slight decreases in mandatory funding.
The trade title receives $515 million in additional mandatory funding over ten years, with the main trade promotion programs (MAP, FMD, Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops, and the revitalized Kika de la Garza Agricultural Fellowship Programs being combined into a new Priority Trade Promotion, Development and Assistance Program. The new combined programs receive $259 million annually, slightly less than the same array of programs would get under the House trade title. As with the last three farm bills, this trade title also includes some important reforms to U.S. food aid programs, such as repealing the monetization minimum requirement for the Title II ‘Food for Peace’ program, increases the amount of Title II funding allowed to be used for monitoring and evaluation purposes, and allows at least 10 percent of commodities used under the McGovern-Dole school feeding program to be purchased outside the United States. It also allows some cash from the Food for Progress program to be used directly for non-food purposes, rather than requiring the use of commodities which are then monetized in the recipient country.
The Rural Development title formally restores the position of Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development, which was administratively eliminated by Secretary Perdue in 2017. It also creates an Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Forms of Production, providing $4 million annually in mandatory funds for education, extension and research grants in this area. A provision in the title also allows matching grants as an eligible funding mechanism for expanding broadband access in rural areas. An amendment offered and approved during the Committee mark-up raised the caps on how much USDA can lend to individuals through either direct operating or ownership loans.
The Credit title authorizes USDA to increase to $12 billion the amount it is able to offer each year as operating or ownership loans, $4 billion as direct loans and $8 billion as guaranteed loans. It also requires Farm Credit Associations to provide sound credit and related services to beginning, small, and socially disadvantaged farmers.
The Senate’s Research, Extension, and Related Matters Title (Title VII) provided an additional one-time allocation of $200 million in mandatory funds to the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, established in the previous farm bill to seek out matching funds from outside sources to fund innovative agricultural research projects. It also continues mandatory funding for both the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, receiving $450 million and $500 million respectively over ten years. The research title also reinstates the matching requirement for federal funds for agricultural research for an array of federal programs.
The Forestry title continues to provide $105 million in mandatory funds annually for the Water Source Protection Program, to carry out watershed protection and restoration projects on National Forest System land with non-Federal partners, including state, local, and tribal governments
The Senate Energy title provides a total of $375 million over ten years in new mandatory funds for renewable energy programs, including the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Bioenergy Program for Advanced biofuels, and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. It also includes a provision requires development of an integrated and expedited process to determine the eligibility of new biobased products for preference under the Federal procurement process. The House bill had no stand-alone energy title, and no mandatory funding for renewable energy programs shifted into the Rural Development title.
The Horticulture title creates the Local Agriculture Market Program, streamlining and combining the Farmers Market and Local Food Program with the Value-added Producers Grant Program. The program receives $60 million in mandatory funding annually, and now includes financial assistance for farmers to become food safety-certified. The title also provides a one-time tranche of $5 million in mandatory funds for an organic production and marketing data initiative, plus allowing spending of left-over mandatory money from previous legislation. It also requires USDA to issue regulations on the certification of foreign farming operations as organic. It continues mandatory funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and allows up to $5 million of that funding to be used for multi-state projects, to be overseen by the Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
In the Miscellaneous title, the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Grant program, Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Producers, and Veterans programs are combined into a single Farming Opportunities and Outreach Training Program, with $466 million in mandatory funding over ten years. The title also authorizes $30 million in funding for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, and establishes a national animal disease preparedness and response program. Unlike the similar provision in the House farm bill, this provision has no mandatory funds attached to it. This title also includes a provision urging the Secretary to improve the Department’s data collection procedures on conservation practices.