In response to the signing into law of the Continuing Resolution (CR) by President Barack Obama (on March 27), the American Soybean Association (ASA) has examined the ramifications for soybean farmers contained in the measure, which funds the federal government through the end of the 2013 fiscal year on September 30.
“This was a large piece of legislation with many different aspects affecting many different industries. While it’s only a temporary extension for the next six months, it was necessary for us to step back and look at exactly which programs soybean farmers use most will be impacted,” said ASA President Danny Murphy, a soybean farmer from Canton, Miss.
While the sequestration is separate from the CR, Congress allowed sequestration to stand, resulting in an across-the-board reduction in funding for most federal programs by 5.2 percent This follows the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which placed caps on each of the annual appropriations bills through 2021, including the Agricultural Appropriations bill. Additionally, the CR includes an additional 2.5 percent cut in discretionary spending that USDA will have to carry out before the end of FY13.
The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), a priority for ASA, was not only funded in the CR, but it was one of the few programs for which funding was increased. The program is now funded at $274.8 million, $10 million more than in FY2012. As a discretionary program, however, AFRI will be subject to USDA’s 2.5 percent reduction within the next six months. Appropriations for research at land-grant universities (often called "capacity funding"), which fund ARS and extension activities, all suffered a cut of 7.61 percent from last year's funding levels.
The CR restores funding to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), but reduces the cap on acreage enrolled in the program this year by 740,000 acres. Following the reduction, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will enroll only 12 million acres in the program in FY2013. This was a priority for ASA within the larger discussion of budget constraints and farm programs.
The CR included an amendment introduced by Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) that postpones the enforcement date for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) specifications, which would have required that oil storage facilities with a capacity of over 1,320 gallons make structural improvements to reduce the possibility of oil spills. The plan would have required farmers to construct a containment facility, like a dike or a basin, which must retain 110 percent of the fuel in the container.
The rule is now postponed until the end of FY13 on Sept. 30. ASA strongly supported this postponement and is supporting legislation that would adjust the minimum capacity upward to 10,000 gallons while the aggregate level on a production facility would move to 42,000 gallons. The proposal would also place a greater degree of responsibility on the farmer or rancher to self-certify compliance if it exceeds the exemption level.
Also included in the CR was the ASA-supported Farmer Assurance Provision, language that states farmers may continue to plant seeds bearing traits that have been deregulated by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) without threat of disruption as a result of court decisions. The provision addresses the potential for protracted delays in commercializing new traits pending court-ordered environmental impact reviews. Finally, the provision only applies to biotech traits that have completed the required regulatory review process, and does not restrict the right to challenge USDA’s determination that a trait does not pose a plant pest risk.
Finally, ASA welcomes provisions included in the CR that shift funding within USDA to ensure the continuation of inspections of packinghouses and slaughterhouses, averting potential furloughs for the nation’s meat inspectors and the resulting shut-down of slaughterhouses and processing plants that would have very negatively affected the livestock industry. More than 98 percent of the soybean meal produced in the U.S. goes to the livestock sector in the form of animal feed, and disruptions within that industry adversely impact soybean farmers as well.