Spending bill highlights progress in Congress

Farmers around the country welcomed action by both the House and the Senate to pass the FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. The bill, which easily passed both the House and the Senate, combines all 12 appropriations bills for various spending categories — including Agriculture, Energy & Water, and other areas that impact soybean farmers — into one measure, and allocates funding for programs within each. Several of these programs represent significant policy priorities for soybean farmers, including those addressing waterways infrastructure, agricultural research, food aid and market reports.

“It isn’t all too often that Congress passes bipartisan legislation. Let’s hope this spirit of cooperation continues through to the farm bill,” said Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president. “We are pleased by the activity, even though the omnibus bill — and its accompanying report language — is far from perfect. While the bill includes much-needed funding increases for rural development programs, it also makes detrimental cuts to the Women, Infants, and Children Program, and appropriations for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission fall short of the agency’s needs.”

The bill’s Energy & Water section includes provisions that will significantly increase funding for waterways components. These provisions are strongly supported by the American Soybean Association (ASA) and have been priorities for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the authorization bill that is currently in conference committee. Under the bill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction General Account receives $1.6 billion and revises the FY14 cost-sharing formula for the Olmsted Lock & dam project to 75% General Funds and 25 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF). Currently the cost-share is split evenly and has resulted in the Olmsted project consuming nearly all of the IWTF funds. The revised cost share will free up $81.5 million for other projects that have been delayed because of Olmsted’s cost overruns.

Another victory for agriculture comes in the form of a significant increase in spending for port and navigation channel improvements, funded out of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). The bill provides $1 billion from the HMTF for port and navigation channel maintenance and dredging. The HMTF collects approximately $1.6 billion annually and in past years only about half has been provided for actual harbor maintenance, with the rest diverted to general government purposes. ASA has consistently advocated to free up money from the IWTF and increase the amounts from the HMTF that go toward port maintenance and dredging.

“Waterways infrastructure is so critical for soybean farmers. Without it, more time, money and resources are needed to move our products to market,” said Ray Gaesser, American Soybean Association president. “The productive work of the appropriations committee this week is not only a policy victory for ASA and other waterways stakeholders, but also a positive sign that the WRDA conference committee may be nearing completion with similar provisions for waterways funding in future years.”

Within the bill’s Agriculture section, ASA also applauded the allocation of $316.4 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which is the nation’s only agriculture-oriented competitive grants program, and the funding of which has been a priority for soybean farmers since its inception.

“From innovations in weed science and biotechnology to new ways to manage water and inputs, the products and practices yielded by agricultural research are what have made U.S. agriculture great,” Gaesser said.

Additionally in the Agriculture section, the nation’s two critical foreign food aid programs received funding. The Food for Peace Program (PL 480) was funded through the bill at $1.466 billion, while the McGovern –Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program received funding at $185 million. Both programs provide nations in need with assistance in the form of American-grown agricultural commodities, including in many cases, soybean meal and soy flour.

Also, the bill’s Agriculture section provided $161.2 million for the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and directs NASS to resume previously-suspended reports and begin compilation of several Current Industrial Reports formerly conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. This includes the “Fats and Oils: Oilseed Crushings (M311J)” and “Fats and Oils: Production, Consumption, and Stocks (M311K)” reports. In 2013, ASA led efforts to provide adequate funding to NASS to resume the reports.

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