Higher Funding Needed for Ag

By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- A coalition of more than 70 agriculture groups sent a letter late Thursday to congressional leaders asking for an increase in the Agriculture budget for the fiscal year 2018 Agriculture appropriations bill on which Congress is working.

The letter was sent to House and Senate Republican and Democratic appropriations leaders and to the leaders of the House and Senate.

Congress is still trying to iron out a full-year funding package and is expected to largely maintain operating funding under 2017 levels until at least mid-January.

The letter from food, agriculture, scientific, academic, veterinary and consumer groups asked for Congress "to substantially increase the discretionary budget cap for domestic programs" and provide Agriculture appropriations with a 5% increase.

"The food and agricultural sector alone contributes nearly $1 trillion to the national economy every year, or approximately 5.5% of the nation's GDP. The sector supports over 22 million American jobs, or nearly 15% of U.S. employment," the letter stated.

The letter added, "This segment of our economy is the best example of how the combination of technology, ingenuity, and hard work have made our country the strongest force for improving the lives of billions of people here and around the world. However, more support is needed if we are to maintain our historic leadership in this area.

If spending is raised, the groups stated, agricultural investment should be a top priority. The groups argued the appropriations subcommittees for Agriculture "are currently hamstrung" by a budget cap that doesn't reflect the importance of the agriculture and food sectors to everyday Americans.

"The USDA and FDA bill is the smallest of all the appropriations bills, save for the legislative appropriation. The success of the American farm and food system has made it possible for the consistent transfer of resources into other sectors," the letter stated.

The farm bill already will be shaped by the outcome of the FY 2018 budget because the Senate funding bill includes improvements for the safety net for dairy producers and would allow cotton producers to enroll in the Price Loss Coverage program for cottonseed. If those programs stay in the final bill, that will establish a funding baseline in the farm bill to support both the dairy and cotton fixes.

Since FY 2010, the inflation-adjusted agricultural appropriations budget also has fallen by 20%, while most other areas of the federal government have grown or not seen the same kinds of cuts.

"These reductions pose immediate and long-term threats to our production, natural resources, and ability to lead on an increasingly competitive global stage, which is why the trend of declining investment must be reversed now," the letter stated.

The letter was released by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Kanika Gandhi, an NSAC policy specialist, said, "It is encouraging to see such a diverse range of stakeholders coalesce around the need to lift the budget cap for non-defense discretionary spending and to increase the allocation for the agriculture appropriations bill. The agriculture bill has not always received its fair share when the caps are increased, but we believe this is a great opportunity for leaders in both chambers to invest in the future sustainability of the American farm and food system."

The letter was signed by a broad range of groups, but there were some oddities about who signed and who didn't. The National Farmers Union signed the bill, but the American Farm Bureau Federation did not. Crop groups supported the request, but meat groups did not sign the letter. Western Growers, the largest association of fruit and vegetable farmers, signed the letter, but the United Fresh Produce Association did not.


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