On March 23, 2018, the President signed a government spending package (the “omnibus appropriations bill”) to fund federal programs through September 30, 2018. The bill divides up the $2 billion in increased agricultural funding that was obtained through the budget deal reached by Congress in February. This increased funding provides much-needed investment in rural infrastructure, farm conservation, sustainable agriculture research, rural business development, outreach and technical assistance, food safety training, and farm credit programs. Specifically, the omnibus appropriations bill provides the following for agriculture and rural development programs:
- Rural Infrastructure: $600 million for broadband access and over $1 billion for rural water and waste disposal infrastructure.
- Conservation Programs: For the first time since 2003, the bill contains no cuts to mandatory funding for either the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). As a result, there are no funding cuts to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which pulls some of its funding from both programs. The omnibus appropriations bill does include a provision to exempt Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) from having to report toxic air emissions under the Comprehensive Environmental Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).
- Agricultural Research: The bill provides a strong investment in several different agricultural research programs, including $400 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI); a 30% increase in funding to $35 million for the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (SARE); and $5 million for the Organic Transitions Program (ORG).
- Food Safety: The omnibus appropriations bill increases the funding by $2 million for a total of $7 million for the Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP), which will help farmers comply with the new food safety regulations contained in the Food Safety Modernization Act.
- Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers: The bill increases funding to the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (Section 2501 Program) by $3 million for a total of $13 million to help increase farmers of color and veteran farmers’ access to and engagement with USDA programs.
- Value-Added Producer Grants: The bill maintains the $15 million increase for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG) that was seen with the Fiscal Year 2017 spending bill.
- Rural Development: The bill increases funding or provides funding equal to Fiscal Year 2017 to the Rural Business Development Grants Program (RBDG), the Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program (RCDG), the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas Program (ATTRA), and the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program (B&I).
- Farm Credit: The omnibus appropriations bill retains FY 2017 funding levels for the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Loan Programs.
Because the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations process was so late, the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees in both the House and the Senate are currently receiving appropriations requests for their Fiscal Year 2019 bills. In Maine, we are lucky to have representatives on both of those committees – Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Senator Susan Collins. Now is a great time to reach out to both of them and let them know the importance of having sufficient funding for the programs that are vital to Maine farms.