The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a fiscal 2022 spending bill for the Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration that includes about $7 billion in disaster assistance and $700 million for USDA’s ReConnect program for rural broadband.

“This bipartisan legislation will drive economic opportunities to farmers and invest in the long-term health of our working lands,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., chair of the committee’s Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

The subcommittee's top Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota, said, “Given the extreme drought and other natural disasters in farm country, we worked hard to secure more than $7 billion in much-needed disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers in North Dakota and across the country, including $750 million specifically designed to provide much needed drought relief for livestock producers,”

The House spending bill does not contain the disaster aid funding for USDA’s Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus. The House Ag Committee has approved a separate bill that would that would authorize - but not appropriate - $8.5 billion in disaster aid through WHIP Plus for 2020 and 2021. The Ag Committee intended the bill as guidance for the Appropriations committees in deciding how to fund WHIP Plus. 

Total spending in the Senate's FY22 Agriculture spending bill is about $25.9 billion, a $2.46 billion increase over the current fiscal year, according to a summary of the legislation from the Senate Appropriations Committee. FDA would get about $3.4 billion, an increase of $200 million over fiscal year 2021.

The bill also would boost spending on ag research by $292 million over the current fiscal year to $3.6 billion, roughly the same increase included in the bill that cleared the House. The Agricultural Research Service would get $1.67 billion; the House bill has $1.64 billion for ARS.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition applauded the bill’s increase of $5 million for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, for a total of $45 million, but said more funding is needed to address climate change.

“That is why we are looking to the Senate Budget Committee’s forthcoming budget reconciliation package to provide the kind of investments in climate-smart agriculture that are essential to meeting the challenge of our times and to ensuring American agriculture can meet the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” NSAC Policy Director Eric Deeble said.

Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., says she wants to include $50 billion in new conservation spending over the next 10 years in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package Democrats are seeking to pass.

Despite the seemingly good news in the FY22 appropriations bill for USDA and FDA, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that the three bills before the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday — the panel also approved the Energy and Water and Military Construction measures — “are not on track to cross the finish line out on the floor” because there is no agreement yet on overall spending levels for the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. 

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said, “I don’t see how we can put together a budget without a budget resolution — and we don’t have a budget resolution. In Louisiana we call that that ass-backwards.”

Republicans in the House and Senate have also criticized the size of domestic spending bills for increasing non-defense spending above levels for the Defense Department.

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“Our Democratic colleagues must commit to respecting parity” in defense and non-defense discretionary spending, McConnell said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pushed back on the criticism of the appropriations process, calling it “revisionist history.”

His committee's Energy-Water spending bill includes $8.9 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, a $1.1 billion over fiscal 2021. Some $2 billion is allocated for the Bureau of Reclamation, a $316 million increase over fiscal 2021.

Other highlights of the FY22 Agriculture bill, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee:

  • The National Institute of Food and Agriculture would get $1.66 billion, which includes a $10 million boost for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
  • The Farm Service Agency's $1.2 billion budget would “allow FSA to offer better program access and outreach to minorities and historically underserved producers and beginning farmers. All FSA loan levels are maintained and an additional $7.4 million is provided to FSA to address the higher costs associated with the increased number of direct ownership loans.”
  • The bill would fund conservation operations at the Natural Resources Conservation Service at $918 million. That total includes a $12 million increase for climate-smart agricultural practices for a total of $35 million and $8 million to support NRCS Climate Hub projects across the country.
  • “A new $15 million Working Lands Resiliency Program is created in the bill to focus on voluntary and farmer-friendly climate actions on farms and ranches across the country, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.”

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