Washington Roundup – October 2018
By: Lowell Randel
2014 Farm Bill Expires as Negotiations Continue
Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committee are continuing their negotiations to complete the 2018 Farm Bill. However, major differences on nutrition policy and farm subsidies have slowed progress towards a final deal. While work will continue on the bill, it is not expected that much will happen between now and the 2018 midterm elections. It is hoped that the bill can be completed in the “lame duck” session after the elections, but a switch in control of the House and/or Senate could make reaching an agreement more complicated.
The 2014 Farm Bill officially expired at the end of September 2018. The impacts of expiration on agricultural research programs are fairly minimal, as most research is supported by discretionary authority and funded through the annual appropriations process. Programs such as the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) can continue to operate as long as they have appropriated funds.
Larger impacts are felt by programs supported through mandatory funding such as commodity programs. However, commodity programs operate by “crop year”, so major disruptions are not expected unless a new bill (or extension of the 2014 bill) is delayed well into 2019. An absence of authority in 2019 would create uncertainty for producers trying to make planting decisions for their 2019 crops.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) developed a report on the impacts of expiration of the 2014 Farm Bill that can be found here.
Trump Administration Calls on Agencies to Cut Budgets by 5%
On October 17th, President Trump called on his Cabinet secretaries to make plans for a 5 percent reduction in each of their budgets. Secretary Purdue indicated that he stands with the President on reducing federal spending and that USDA will meet the 5 percent target. The move comes as the budget deficit rose to $779 billion in fiscal year 2018.
President Trump’s previous budget proposals have also called for significant reductions in domestic spending, including funding for USDA. Congress has declined to follow many of the proposed cuts included in previous administration proposals, so it is unclear what impact the commitment to cut 5 percent will have on actual appropriations for USDA and other departments.
USDA Releases List of Submissions for NIFA/ERS Relocation
On October 22nd, USDA announced that it had received 136 expressions of interest in hosting the relocation of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS). The submissions reflected responses from 35 states and represented a variety of educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, state development agencies, county development agencies, municipalities, and for-profit entities. Secretary Purdue touted the expressions of interest as “overwhelming” and will likely be used to help justify the move. Concerns continue to be expressed by the scientific community as well as previous USDA administrators and senior officials who question the consequences of moving NIFA and ERS outside of the National Capital Region.
USDA and FDA Hold Meeting on Cell-Based Meat
On October 23rd, USDA and FDA began a two-day meeting to examine issues related to regulating cell-based meat. Jurisdiction over cell-based meat is currently unsettled and both FDA and USDA are laying claim to the issue. However, Secretary Purdue and FDA Commissioner Gottlieb indicated at the meeting that the agencies were working to together to develop a dual-agency regulatory framework. Secretary Purdue suggested that the goal would be establish the framework in 2019. Interest groups are divided in how they would like regulations to be handled. Cell-based meat companies have advocated for FDA to handle pre-market safety of products, while USDA would oversee production and further processing. The traditional meat industry suggests that USDA should have primary responsibility. More information on the meeting can be found here.