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House approves ag appropriations bill

sborisov/iStock/Thinkstock US capitol building in Washington DC against bright blue sky
Riders require USDA to oversee lab-grown meat, and ag research and rural broadband get boost.

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved the fiscal 2019 Agriculture Appropriations bill on a vote of 31-20. The bill funds important agricultural and food programs and services, including food and medical product safety, animal and plant health programs, rural development and farm services, agricultural trade, financial marketplace oversight and nutrition programs.

Total discretionary funding in the legislation is $23.27 billion, which is $14 million above the fiscal 2018 enacted level. In total, the bill allows for $145.09 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding – $922 million below the fiscal 2018 enacted level.

The bill provides funding for key programs and services, including $3.1 billion for agricultural research programs and $1.92 billion for international programs designed to promote U.S. agricultural exports overseas. The Agriculture & Food Research Initiative received a $15 million increase, pushing total funding for the program to $415 million. This is a nearly 4% increase over fiscal 2018 and an 11% increase over the President’s budget request for fiscal 2019.

The legislation also provides $255 million in funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, an agency that works to ensure that the derivatives markets operate effectively and helps deter and prevent fraud and manipulation in the futures markets.

“The Rural Development account in the bill contains over $620 million of continued commitment to expanding rural broadband and erasing the rural digital divide. Combined with the $685 million in the recently passed omnibus, Congress is ensuring that the days of looking past rural America are over,” subcommittee chairman Rep. Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) said. “In addition, access to high-speed internet is now just as important to a high quality of life as electricity, water and sewer. As a country, we cannot allow large sections of our population to be cut off from the rest of the world and, therefore, be cut off from economic opportunities.”

The fiscal 2019 Agriculture Appropriations bill specifically directs the secretary of agriculture to oversee lab-grown meat and issue regulations to ensure that the product is safe and accurately labeled.

The legislation passed by the committee includes an amendment from Rep. Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.) to improve the nation’s H-2A legal agricultural labor program by directing the secretary of agriculture to work with other federal agencies to establish a comprehensive online system for agricultural employers to complete the H-2A application process. Currently, if a farmer petitions for workers, he or she must send multiple applications to multiple agencies, often on paper, to complete the application process.

“I am pleased that my amendment was adopted to encourage streamlining of government and providing better customer service by directing the appropriate federal agencies to move forward on an online portal to process H-2A applications,” Newhouse said. “During my recent roundtables in central Washington, one of the biggest concerns I heard from farmers was how inefficiently the current H-2A program operates for their businesses, which rely on consistent and reliable labor.”

As with the fiscal 2018 bill, this bill makes no cuts to farm bill mandatory spending for the Conservation Stewardship Program or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program -- the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s premier working lands conservation programs. It also increased funding for the Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA), which provides farmers with on-the-ground conservation planning support. The House bill proposes $890 million for conservation operations, including $790.9 million for CTA.

Farm Service Agency loan funding levels remained the same as in fiscal 2018. The bill maintains programs levels for direct operating loans at $1.53 billion, guaranteed operations loans at $1.96 billion, guaranteed farm ownership loans at $2.75 billion and direct farm ownership loans at $1.5 billion.

The Senate agriculture appropriations subcommittee will likely announce a markup for its appropriations bill shortly.

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