By Tom Hance
They took it right up until Christmas Eve, but Congress passed an omnibus appropriations package to fund government programs for fiscal year 2023. The package totals $1.7 trillion with $858 billion in defense funding, including $44.9 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine and NATO allies, and $772.5 billion for non-defense discretionary programs. For agriculture, the bill includes discretionary funding of $25.48 billion. The Continuing Resolution (CR), which keeps the government operating at FY2022 levels, was set to expire Dec. 23 so the new appropriations package came just in the (saint) nick of time! Following are provisions of interest to the canola sector:
National Canola Research Program
This program, funded by the Supplemental and Alternative Crops Competitive Grants Program under the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), is funded at $2 million with the following language that the U.S. Canola Association requested:
The agreement recognizes the importance of nationally coordinated, regionally managed canola research and extension programs and encourages the Secretary to give priority consideration to proposals that address research needs in production areas with the greatest potential to expand, as well as those where canola production is established and needs to be maintained.
The measure includes $3.7 billion in agricultural disaster funding for losses in 2022 “of revenue, quality or production losses of crops (including milk, on-farm stored commodities, crops prevented from planting in 2022, and harvested adulterated wine grapes), trees, bushes, and vines, as a consequence of droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, derechos, excessive heat, tornadoes, winter storms, freeze, including a polar vortex, smoke exposure, and excessive moisture.” These funds are expected to be implemented as an extension of the Emergency Relief Program that was provided for 2021 losses.
Pesticide Registration Provisions and Funding
The package includes the reauthorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA), which was supported by agricultural groups and other stakeholders. The measure also increases funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs from $129 million to $140 million.
Many agricultural groups co-signed a letter to the House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders encouraging them to pass the PRIA reauthorization before the end of the year. The PRIA provides for specific time periods for the EPA to make a regulatory decision on pesticide registrations and tolerance actions submitted to the agency. Over the last decade, the program has lost over 200 full time equivalents while pesticide submissions have increased rapidly. Moreover, the EPA is struggling to resolve a backlog of over 11,000 related regulatory actions.
Climate and Conservation
The omnibus includes two climate and conservation measures – a modified version of the Growing Climate Solutions Act and the SUSTAINS Act. The Growing Climate Solutions Act would authorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to serve as a conduit for agricultural carbon market activities, including overseeing the registration of farm technical advisers and carbon-credit verification services. The original Growing Climate Solutions Act had bipartisan support, passing in the Senate in June 2021 by a vote of 92-8. Also included was the SUSTAINS Act, a bill sponsored by Glenn ‘GT” Thompson (R-PA), the top Republican and next chair of the House Agriculture Committee. The SUSTAINS Act would allow corporations and other private entities to contribute funding for conservation projects and authorize the USDA to provide up to 75 percent in matching funds.
Funding for agricultural research will increase by $175 million over fiscal 2022 to $3.45 billion in FY23. The Agricultural Research Service, the USDA’s in-house research arm, would get $1.74 billion, a $111 million increase over FY22. The NIFA would receive $1.7 billion, a $64 million increase over FY22 while the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative will be funded at $455 million.
No Ag Labor Reform
Despite ongoing efforts and a strong, late push by supporters, the agriculture labor reform provisions were not included in the omnibus appropriations package. Sen. Bennet (D-CO) and Rep. Newhouse (R-WA) were leading efforts to expand and modernize the H-2A visa program to provide more certainty and efficiency for farm employers. However, opposition on broader immigration policies prevented a deal from being reached.
Finally, on Dec. 22, the Senate confirmed Alexis Taylor as USDA undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, Jose Emilio Esteban as USDA undersecretary for food safety, and Doug McKalip to be chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Tom Hance is a policy expert at Gordley Associates in Washington, D.C.