Feds Give Ag Research, School Lunch Programs More Money; End Air Pollution-Reporting Requirements
Meant to fund the federal government through early September, the $1.3 trillion bill signed by President Donald Trump last week also includes money and changes for ag-related programs beyond the “grain-glitch” fix.
Some notable highlights include:
- An end to pollution-reporting requirements for large-scale livestock operations: Hog, poultry, egg and cattle feeding lots won’t have to report levels of hydrogen sulfide or ammonia levels from fecal pits. Industry groups had argued that it would be too burdensome and costly. Thousands of farmers would have had to start doing that on May 1 if not for the change, which is in line with the Trump administration’s call for regulatory rollbacks.
- Farm to web: The U.S. Department of Agriculture will get a $600 million grant and loan program to expand broadband internet to rural and underserved areas. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said doing so could help people bridge the so-called “digital divide” that limits rural areas’ learning and connection with more urban areas. But expanding internet access isn’t cheap, as experts have noted.
- Research funding: The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative will see a $25 million increase to $400 million this year. The program studies everything from bee deaths to “perpetual vaccines” for animals. Last year, grants from that program funded 25 research projects in Illinois, 28 in Iowa, 19 in Nebraska and Kansas, 17 in Missouri and 23 in Colorado, among many others.
- Big data: Almost $87 million goes to the Economic Research Service to analyze ag trends and economies. That’s nearly $10 million more than had been requested, but total funding isn’t much more than the program has had in recent years. Another $1.2 billion will go to the Agriculture Research Service, which is the USDA’s main in-house research facility that tries to find solutions to national agricultural problems. Its funding is slightly down from last year but up about $200 million from USDA’s request.
- Firefighting funds: The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management now can access disaster funds for expensive fires. Before this, the agencies borrowed money from federal fire prevention efforts to fuel more urgent firefighting plans. Colorado senators publicly praised the change, and Perdue said last week in a news release that it’ll help “mitigate the frequency and severity of future fire seasons.”
- Livestock haulers: The bill extends the delay for livestock haulers to follow the electronic-logging device mandate. Haulers now won’t have to log hours and limit their time behind the wheel until at least Sept. 30, giving the Department of Transportation time to work with the livestock industry on how to change rules so that animals aren’t stranded in trucks.
- Nutrition programs: School lunch programs will get an extra $2 million more, boosting overall funding to $24.25 million. But the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly referred to as food stamps, was cut by about $4 billion to $74 billion (though that’s more funding than the $73.6 billion request). Lawmakers on the House Agriculture Committee are debating changes for SNAP, which is about 80 percent of the farm bill that’s up for renewal this year.
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