I would like to bring several USDA-AFRI news items to your attention.
1. Congress passes appropriations bill package.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) research programs fare well in the final FY 2014 appropriations bill, with the Research, Education, and Economics account up $114 million (4.5 percent) to $2.64 billion. Within this amount, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is funded at $1.277 billion, an increase of $74.6 million (6.2 percent) over the FY 2013 enacted level. Within NIFA, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) is funded at $316.4 million, a significant increase of $25.9 million (8.9 percent). For the Agriculture Research Service (ARS), the bill provides $1.122 billion, an increase of $50.5 million (4.7 percent) over the FY 2013 enacted level.
2. Farm Bill agreement reached.
The USDA research and extension programs had strong bipartisan support throughout consideration of the Farm Bill with the final bill largely extending current programs. The bill would extend the authorization for intramural research through the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) through fiscal year (FY) 2018. The bill would also reauthorize the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) through FY 2018 and extend the authorization for NIFA’s extramural competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), at the current $700 million annual level. In the recently enacted FY 2014 funding bill package, AFRI is funded at $316.4 million, an increase of $25.9 million (8.9 percent) above the FY 2013 pre-sequester level. The Farm Bill notes the decrease in funding for production agriculture through AFRI and stresses the importance of making basic animal health research a priority.
The House and Senate reached a compromise on a provision that would have required all institutions of higher education that are not land-grant institutions or designated non-land-grant colleges of agriculture to provide a 1:1 match for NIFA funds if that institution was not partnering with a USDA entity or a land-grant institution on the grant. After pushback from public institutions of higher education that were not designated as land-grant or non-land-grant institutions, the final bill includes one provision to somewhat work around the matching provision and another provision to clarify the process by which designation as a non-land-grant institution is achieved. First, USDA can grant a waiver to the matching funds requirement if a grant involves “research or extension activities that are consistent with the priorities established by the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board.” Second, the bill requires USDA to “establish an ongoing process through which public colleges or universities may apply for designation as [a non-land grant college of agriculture],” as several institutions had said the process was unclear to them.
3. Clarification regarding SCRI matching requirements in Farm Bill.
The exemption for 1:1 match (see above) goes into effect with FY ’15 funds. Therefore, any grant that is awarded with FY ’14 funds is still subject to whatever match that particular granting program currently requires.
4. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research
In a major new initiative to boost agricultural research, the Farm Bill authorizes a new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), which is established with $200 million in mandatory funding to remain available until expended. The conferees stress that FFAR should not duplicate current funding or research efforts, and that it should not offset or allow a reduction in annual appropriations for agricultural research. The purpose of FFAR is to foster public-private partnerships to identify and prioritize the most pressing needs of the agricultural sector. Funding from FFAR must be matched 1:1 with non-federal funding.
5. Regional Climate Hubs announced.
Secretary Vilsack has announced the creation of seven USDA Climate Change Hubs. The hubs have been selected to serve as their region’s center of climate change information and outreach to mitigate risks to the agricultural sector. All hubs are all located at USDA-ARS sites. The midwest (including WI) site is located at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, Agricultural Research Service, Ames, Iowa, with a “sub-hub” in Houghton, Mich. Although initially largely a USDA-ARS initiative, the Climate Change hubs anticipate close interaction with universities in their respective regions. More on this to come, I’m sure.