By Ferd Hoefner, OFRF policy advisor
On March 9, Congress finally produced the government funding bill for the fiscal year that started last October. Since October the government has been funding by a series of continuing resolutions that tracked the previous year’s budget amounts. Congress will now vote on the new final appropriations bill over the course of the next week, at which point it will be signed into law by the President. With April 1, the halfway point of every federal fiscal year, close at hand, it thankfully will not be held up any longer, and hope springs eternal that they would finish the annual appropriations process by the September 30 deadline each year.
The following are some brief bill highlights from the organic research perspective:
Organic Transitions Research – After winning a $1 million increase last year, we were successful in adding another half million increase this year, bringing the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY 22) total to $7.5 million. In report language added by the Senate, USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is directed to focus the increase on the role of organic in mitigating climate change.
Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education – Though not an organic-only research and extension program, SARE was an early and continues to be a regular contributor to organic research. Following on a $3 million increase last year, the new bill for FY 22 includes another $5 million increase, bringing the total for the current year to $45 million for this NIFA competitive grants program.
Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – AFRI, by far the largest of the NIFA competitive grants programs, does not contribute nearly as much to organic farming research as it should, but has nonetheless been an occasional source of organic-specific funding or more frequently research that may contribute to organic systems less directly. It will receive its third straight $10 million annual increase, to reach $445 million for FY 22. In its report language, the Senate also directs NIFA to increase the number of organic research projects funded under AFRI, so that will bear watching as grants are awarded later this year.
Agricultural Research Service – While the final FY 22 bill does not include any specific funding provisions for organic farming research by the federal labs and field stations that make up ARS, earlier House report language requires the agency to develop a five-year plan for organic food and agricultural research encompassing all relevant crop, animal, nutrition, and natural resource national programs. We expect that plan to help bear fruit when Congress takes up the FY 23 agricultural appropriations bill later this year.
Organic Production and Market Data Initiative – The new bill includes level funding of $500,000 for the National Agricultural Statistics Service and an increase of $500,000, to a total of $1 million, for the Agricultural Marketing Service to further the objectives of the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative. Congress directs the increase for AMS to improve annual reporting by organic certifiers to calculate organic acreage and yield estimates more accurately on a country-by-country basis.
Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative – In an exciting comeback story, Congress is providing $14 million for the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI), a technical assistance and outreach program within the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s conservation technical assistance budget. Well managed grazing land is central to organic livestock and dairy production and plays a predominate role in climate change mitigation efforts. GLCI has not been funded by Congress for well over a decade, so its rebirth this year is a most welcome addition to the conservation and grazing toolbox.