ASA welcomed action by the House this week to advance the FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. The bill, which the Senate expects to vote on tomorrow, combines all 12 appropriations bills for various spending categories—including Agriculture, Energy & Water, and other areas that impact soybean farmers—into one measure, and allocates funding for programs within each. Several of these programs represent significant policy priorities for soybean farmers, including those addressing waterways infrastructure, agricultural research, food aid and market reports.
The bill’s Energy & Water section includes provisions that will significantly increase funding for waterways components. These provisions are strongly supported by ASA and have been priorities for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the authorization bill that is currently in conference committee. Under the bill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction General Account receives $1.6 billion and revises the FY14 cost-sharing formula for the Olmsted Lock & dam project to 75 percent General Funds and 25% percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF). Currently the cost-share is split evenly and has resulted in the Olmsted project consuming nearly all of the IWTF dollars. The revised cost share will free up $81.5 million for other projects that have been delayed because of Olmsted’s cost overruns.
Another victory for ASA comes in the form of a significant increase in spending for port and navigation channel improvements, funded out of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). The bill provides $1 billion, an increase of $200-$300 million above HMTF funding levels in previous years, that go to port and navigation channel maintenance and dredging. The HMTF collects approximately $1.6 billion annually and in past years only about half has been provided for actual harbor maintenance, with the rest diverted to general government purposes. ASA has consistently advocated to free up money from the IWTF and increase the amounts from the HMTF that go toward port maintenance and dredging.
Within the bill’s Agriculture section, ASA also applauded the allocation of $316.4 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which is the nation’s only agriculture-oriented competitive grants program, and the funding of which has been a priority for soybean farmers since its inception.
Additionally in the Agriculture section, the nation’s two critical foreign food aid programs received funding. The Food for Peace Program (PL 480) was funded through the bill at $1.466 billion, while the McGovern –Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program received funding at $185 million. Both programs nations in need with assistance in the form of American-grown agricultural commodities, including in many cases, soybean meal and soy flour.
Also, the bill’s Agriculture section provided $161.2 million for the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and directs NASS to resume previously-suspended reports and begin compilation of several Current Industrial Reports formerly conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. This includes the “Fats and Oils: Oilseed Crushings (M311J)” and “Fats and Oils: Production, Consumption, and Stocks (M311K)” reports. In 2013, ASA led efforts to provide adequate funding to NASS to resume the reports.