The NAWG offices have been hopping this week with farmers in town for business meetings and the industry’s annual wheat research fly-in. We hope you find this update useful, and we’re always available online at www.facebook.com/wheatworld and www.twitter.com/wheatworld.
President’s Budget Proposes Changes to Crop Insurance, Food Aid, Research
President Barack Obama’s FY2014 budget proposal was submitted to Congress Wednesday, being met with open opposition from the Republican side of the aisle for proposed spending and revenue increases and more muted grumbling from Democrats for proposed trims in cost-of-living increases to entitlement programs such as Medicare. The $3.77 trillion fiscal year 2014 budget proposal is almost certain not to be adopted in whole, as few administration budgets are.
Both the House and the Senate have adopted their own radically different versions of their non-binding budget resolutions. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) put out a rare joint statement indicating they intend to move the budget process forward in Congress, saying, “We recognize the many differences between the House and Senate budget resolutions and the challenge we face in reaching an agreement. We are committed to working to find common ground. We look forward to continuing the conversation as we move toward a conference committee.”
For agriculture, the president’s budget proposal is a mixed bag. Overall, the Department of Agriculture would receive nearly $22 billion in discretionary funding, a decrease of $1.2 billion over 2012 funding levels. The entire 2014 USDA budget would be $145.8 billion.
Farm Safety Net, Conservation and Energy
Related to farm programs, the document reprises proposals to cut crop insurance support and eliminate direct payments, which officials said would save $37.8 billion over the 10-year budget window. These topics are expected to be central to continued discussions leading toward a new, long-term farm bill.
For conservation programs, for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding is proposed to be decreased slightly from $1.4 billion to $1.350 billion. In 2012, funding for the program was enacted at $1.373 billion. For the old Conservation Security Program, funding for existing contracts would decline to $134 million, while funding for the new Conservation Stewardship Program would see an increase from $768 million in 2013 to a proposed $989 million in 2014. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) would be funded at approximately $2.1 billion with enrollment of just more than 27 million acres.
The budget also calls for $238 million for the Rural Energy for America Program.
As expected, the Obama Administration proposal suggests elimination of the Food for Peace (PL-480) program, aiming to shift from a system of shipping U.S. commodities directly to countries in need. The changes would allow up to 45 percent of food aid to be purchased outside the United States and end the practice of selling commodities to fund development assistance, known as monetization.
NAWG and other agriculture groups have spoken out against the proposed changes, which would harm the existing – and very successful – system of food aid, which guarantees quality products for those in need and builds goodwill for the U.S. in countries that are working to improve conditions for their people. Wheat is a significant part of U.S. food aid, accounting for 34.4 percent of all food-aid donations in fiscal year 2011. NAWG and 80 other groups recently wrote Congressional leaders offering strong support for the Food for Peace and other existing food aid programs; a sample of those letters is available at www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/foodaid-letter-to-senate-ag-fy2014-20130321.pdf.
The Administration’s research proposals contain slight increases in overall funds for both research done by USDA scientists and partnerships with land-grant universities. Researchers and farmers in town this week for the industry’s annual research fly-in were encouraged by this news and urged Members of Congress to support two top-line requests, $1.124 billion for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and $383 million in funding for USDA’s premier competitive grant programs, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).
However, NAWG and state associations are continuing to examine the details of the research proposal and already have developed grave concerns about some of the details. Most significantly, the request appears to zero out funds for the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI), as well as a significant reduction for crop protection work. Wheat stakeholders will continue to assess the potential impact of the president’s ideas on ARS and land-grant research and engage with Members of Congress on top priorities.
The full budget proposals are available online at www.whitehouse.gov/omb/.
Wheat Stakeholders Press Need for Consistent Research Funding
Wheat farmers and researchers from every region of the country were on Capitol Hill together this week, pressing the importance of long-term and stable agriculture research funding as part of the wheat industry’s annual fly-in focusing on innovation in the public sector. The goal was to educate policy makers about the process of developing new and better wheat plants, which can easily take 10 years per variety, and the importance of adequate, consistent funding even in a time of deep fiscal uncertainty.
Despite increased private investment, wheat research is primarily done within USDA, through USDA grants and at land-grant universities around the country that also get significant funding from state governments and wheat growers directly. Public programs are uniquely suited to address the basic questions all plant scientists need answered and to operationalize research into locally-adapted wheat varieties. Despite demonstrated return on investment of up to $32 to $1, just 1.6 percent of the $142 billion annual federal investment in research goes to agriculture, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
More about wheat research needs and the wheat research community is at www.wheatworld.org/research. More on this week’s fly-in is at http://www.wheatworld.org/news-events/2013/04/wheat-stakeholders-press-necessity-of-consistent-federal-research-funding/.
Interior Secretary Confirmed; Energy and EPA Nominees Face Congress
The Senate confirmed new Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Wednesday with an 87 to 11 vote. Jewell has been the head of the outdoor-focused retailer REI and was formerly a banker and oil engineer. The Obama Administration’s nominees for Secretary of Energy and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appeared before Congress this week for their nomination hearings. Ernest Moniz, a physics professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), went before the Senate Energy Committee, while Gina McCarthy, an EPA official nominated for the top spot in that agency, went before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Archived webcasts of both hearings are available on the respective committee websites.
Hurst Appointed as Member of STB’s Rail Advisory Council
Former NAWG president Wayne Hurst was recently appointed to a three-year term as a member of the Surface Transportation Board’s Railroad-Shipper Transportation Advisory Council (RSTAC). RSTAC works with the STB and Congress on a range of regulatory, policy and legislative issues related to the nation’s rail systems. Hurst, who farms near Burley, Idaho, has been deeply involved in rail shipper issues during his time as an officer of the Idaho Grain Producers Association (IGPA) and NAWG. Hurst grows wheat, sugar beets, potatoes, dry beans and forage crops and serves in a variety of leadership capacities within and outside agriculture. He is also currently a member of the Board of Directors for the National Wheat Foundation. More about RSTAC is at http://www.stb.dot.gov/stb/rail/railshipper_council.html.
Freeze Hits Winter Wheat in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas
Freezing temperatures and ice descended on young wheat crops in Kansas, Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle this week, potentially causing severe damage throughout the region. It will be a few weeks before the extent of the damage is known. Kansas Wheat offers more details about the effects in that area on its Wheat Beat blog, at http://thewheatbeat.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/from-the-field-freeze-wreaks-havoc-on-kansas-wheat-crop/. Jeff Edwards, the small grains extension specialist at Oklahoma State University, wrote about the freeze at http://osuwheat.com/2013/04/10/spring-freeze-part-deux/.
Extra Credit: Crop Insurance, Just the Facts
Crop insurance is the most important safety net program for many farmers, including many wheat producers. Heading into the latest effort to write new, long-term farm policy, it is more important than ever that growers and their advocates in Washington have tools to talk to policymakers – familiar and unfamiliar with agriculture – about this vital policy issue. National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) recently released a new section of its website on crop insurance facts to help answer common questions, from basic (What is crop insurance?) to in-depth (Does crop insurance have a role to play in the climate change debate?). Check it out online at http://www.cropinsuranceinamerica.org/about-crop-insurance/just-the-facts/.