February 24, 2020

February D.C. Update

Washington Roundup – February 2020

By: Lowell Randel

President Releases FY2021 Budget Request

On Monday, February 10th, President Trump released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2021.  As with previous budget proposals, Trump has suggested reductions to discretionary spending, including a seven percent cut in FY 2021 that would bring non-defense spending to $590 billion.  This is less than the budget cap agreed to in 2019 that set the overall funding for FY 2021 at $634.5 billion.  Congress has indicated that it plans to respect the bipartisan budget deal struck last year and stay with the $634.5 billion in FY 2021.

The President’s request includes $142.2 billion for federal research and development across all agencies.  This represents a nine percent reduction from FY 2020 levels.  While overall spending on science would decrease under the President’s proposal, there are some targeted increases.  The Trump Administration is promoting additional investments in artificial intelligence that would support research in several agencies, including USDA. 

Below is a snapshot of proposed funding for selected federal agencies:

National Institutes of Health: $36.965 billion (7% below FY 2020)

National Science Foundation (NSF): $6.328 billion (6% below FY 2020)

Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science: $5.76 billion (17% below FY 2020) 

NASA science: $6.261 billion (11% below FY 2020)

USDA - Agricultural Research Service: $1.435 billion (12% below FY 2020)

USDA - National Institute of Food and Agriculture: $968 million (11% above FY 2020) 

Selected highlights of the budget requests for ARS and NIFA are included below:

Agricultural Research Service (ARS)

The proposed budget includes discretionary funding of $1.435 billion to support ARS research.  Included in this amount is $35 million for new initiatives on precision agriculture research, longterm agroecosystems research, artificial intelligence innovations for agriculture production, and research on managing excess water and controlling erosion.  The ARS Budget also includes $102.6 million for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), a state-of-the-art biocontainment facility for the study of foreign, emerging, and zoonotic animal diseases that pose a threat to U.S. animal agriculture and public health, which will replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.  

The proposed budget also provides $50 million for the construction and modernization of existing ARS buildings and facilities where there is a significant backlog for repairs and improvements.  Specifically, in FY 2021 these funds will be used for renovation/construction at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) in Maryland, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska, The Center for Medical Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology in Florida, the Crop Science Research Laboratory in Mississippi, and the Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit in Georgia. Unlike previous years, the FY 2021 Budget does not propose any lab closures.  Funding for Livestock Production would be $107 million (down from $114 million in FY 2020) and funding for Livestock Protection would be $ 121 million (up from $117 million in FY 2020). 


The President’s budget includes $1.6 billion in discretionary funding for NIFA.  Most programs within NIFA would receive the same level of funding at FY 2020 or be subject to cuts.  For example, capacity programs such as Hatch would go from $259 million down to $243 million and Smith Lever would go from $315 million down to $299 million.  As in previous years, the Administration has proposed zero funding for Continuing Animal Health and Disease Research (Sec. 1433).  Likewise, no funding is proposed for the Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative that was established in the 2018 Farm Bill.  The bright spot in the NIFA budget is the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which is proposed to receive $600 million, up from $425 in FY 2020.  Of the increases to AFRI, $100 million would be dedicated to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. 


USDA Announces Agriculture Innovation Agenda

On February 20th, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced creation of the Agriculture Innovation Agenda, a department-wide initiative to align resources, programs, and research to position American agriculture to better meet future global demands.  According to USDA, the initiative will stimulate innovation so that American agriculture can achieve the goal of increasing production by 40 percent while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050.

USDA has identified three main components of the Ag Innovation Agenda.  The first component is to develop a U.S. ag-innovation strategy that aligns and synchronizes public and private sector research. The second component is to align the work of our customer-facing agencies and integrate innovative technologies and practices into USDA programs. The third component is to conduct a review of USDA productivity and conservation data.

USDA has set forth a series of benchmarks to measure progress including:

  • Agricultural productivity: Increase agricultural production by 40 percent by 2050 to do our part to meet estimated future demand.
  • Forest Management: Build landscape resiliency by investing in active forest management and forest restoration through increased Shared Stewardship Agreements with States.
  • Food loss and waste: Advance our work toward the United States’ goal to reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent in the United States by the year 2030, from the 2010 baseline.
  • Carbon Sequestration and Greenhouse Gas: Enhance carbon sequestration through soil health and forestry, leverage the agricultural sector’s renewable energy benefits for the economy, and capitalize on innovative technologies and practices to achieve a net reduction of the agricultural sector’s current carbon footprint by 2050 without regulatory overreach.
  • Water Quality: Reduce nutrient loss by 30 percent nationally by 2050.
  • Renewable Energy: Support renewable fuels, including ethanol, biodiesel, and biomass.

As a part of the initiative, USDA will be issuing a Request for Information to help identify the most important innovation opportunities to be addressed in the near and long term. The focus will be on transformational innovation opportunities defining the next era of agriculture productivity and environmental conservation.  The RFI will be based on the results of the 2019 National Academies of Science report, Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030.  USDA has indicated that it plans to hold workshops as a part of the RFI process.  This process will give the animal science community the opportunity to provide input to USDA on how the animal sciences can contribute to future innovation.