Passionate Supporters Ensure Sustainable Ag Funding Wins
April 29, 2014
For nearly twenty years, Michael Fields Agricultural institute has been an active player in the process of seeking funding for federal programs that support sustainable agriculture. Once, two national policy groups merged in 2009 to form the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition — MFAI applied that experience to helping NSAC coordinate its grassroots appropriations campaign, working with the best policy and grassroots leaders around the nation and in NSAC’s Washington, D.C. office.
But what a ride it’s been in recent years. Ever since the politics of partisan brinksmanship took control, Congress has inflicted several years of disorderly legislative process, including its handling of budgets and appropriations, culminating in last autumn’s partial shutdown of the federal government. Time will tell, of course, but there’s reason to hope that the overwhelming public disapproval of that maneuver may have offered corrective medicine for lawmakers. In December, bipartisan efforts prevailed in creating a budget agreement for not one, but two years, including the current fiscal year, for which appropriators then agreed on final legislation. Finally, many months after the end of the previous fiscal year, in January Congress passed a real appropriations bill that wasn’t just a status-quo Continuing Resolution.
It took eons and much work, including over winter holidays, but thanks to the hard work of both grassroots and Washington, D.C. champions, NSAC and its partners achieved several important wins in that Fiscal Year 2014 bill. In fact, we met or exceeded our goals for three out of our four top priorities for the year. Not only did the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program not get cut, but its funding was increased from $19.2 million to $22.7 million. The Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program was increased from $13.8 million to $15 million. There were no cuts to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and several other conservation programs, although the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) did get cut. Our fourth priority was to block legislative rider language that tried to undercut USDA’s implementation of new rules to make livestock markets more fair and transparent (“GIPSA rules”); unfortunately, that legislative rider language did pass, though not in the worst version that had been proposed.
NSAC’s appropriations campaign is already well down the road for Fiscal Year 2015. In late March, farmers from districts and states of key agricultural appropriators flew into Washington, D.C. to meet with their appropriators on the Hill; another fly-in is planned for late June. Meantime, grassroots supporters responded energetically to action alerts to contact their members to champion our top priorities this year. Those priorities are: SARE; full funding for conservation programs; food safety training for smaller farmers; Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP); Beginning Farmer Rancher Individual Development Accounts; and our opposition to attaching destructive legislative riders to the agricultural appropriations bill.
Will this year’s appropriations process conform to recent history and be protracted and extremely messy, or will it go forward in an orderly way? A good gambler would never place bets on congressional action. Judging from comments in recent weeks, there are at least two competing factors influencing the outcome this year: 1) appropriators’ desire to show the nation that they can actually govern according to “regular order” timing and make the trains run on time; and 2) their desire to not make difficult funding decisions right before a big election. Which impulse wins out will help determine whether the process is a protracted mess or reasonably timely. In either case, NSAC and MFAI will be actively monitoring it and helping our excellent partners around the country to support the federal funding interests of the sustainable agriculture community.