Miles City, FSA offices off the chopping block for now
Senate committees pass bills with language prohibiting closure of essential agricultural facilities
The Miles City cattle research farm and county Farm Service Agency offices appear likely to stick around, with both winning language in budget bills for fiscal year 2018 that prohibit their closure.
Language in the Senate’s FY2018 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill nixes closing both the Fort Keogh Range and Livestock Research Laboratory in Miles City and the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Idaho.
The two centers were among 17 USDA-Agricultural Research Service centers listed for closure in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal. The bill rejects closing any of them.
The Miles City unit is home to the famous Line 1 Hereford herd, which has helped lead research discoveries in beef cattle and is responsible for much of what is known about cattle genetics in the United States. The herd there is an asset that has been 75 years in the making and is not duplicated anywhere else.
The MonDak’s Congressional delegation has been unanimously opposed to cutting research centers in the past and had promised they would fight the latest attempt to target what they said is valuable research that keeps American farmers and ranchers on the cutting edge.
“Montana’s farmers and ranchers are some of our state’s most hardworking folks, and I’m doing all I can to ensure they have the support they need,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said. He is a member of the Senate’s agricultural appropriations committee.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., meanwhile, who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, said the bill also includes $2.55 billion to support agricultural research that is conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food
Hoeven also touted additional support for farmers and ranchers facing severe drought in the Midwest, including North Dakota and Montana, that was included in the bill. These provisions include funding for transporting hay and livestock under the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish program (ELAP), and a requirement to report on any backlog in drought relief programs. That part of the bill also directed USDA to consider making additional conservation acres available for emergency grazing and haying and to allocate additional staff and resources to drought-stricken areas.
“We worked hard to maintain our agriculture budget and ensure this legislation supports our farmers, ranchers and rural communities, especially in the face of such severe natural disasters,” Hoeven said. “This legislation makes additional support available to areas struggling with drought, including funding to help move hay and livestock. In addition we maintained a robust safety net, while also making strong investments in farm service programs, agricultural research and rural development programs to help make our agricultural communities strong and vibrant.”
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., touted amendments to strengthen the ban on Brazilian beef imports and to force the nomination of a USDA Rural Development Undersecretary in the 2018 Agriculture Bill. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue had sought to eliminate the position.
“During times of drought and market uncertainty, it is critical that Montana family farmers and ranchers have the resources they need to protect their bottom line,” Tester said. “This important bill invests in agriculture research, protects FSA jobs, improves water infrastructure and ensures rural America has an advocate at USDA. Republicans and Democrats support this bill because folks worked together to address the needs of rural families and rural communities.”
Funding for rural water and wastewater infrastructure development was also included in the 2018 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, along with $10 million for the Blackfeet Water Compact ratified by Congress last fall.
“Montana’s rural water projects are vital to families, businesses and family farms and ranches across the state, and they create good-paying jobs,” Tester said. “The water infrastructure investments secured today will help close that funding gap and provide folks with additional certainty. Reliable access to clean water is essential for every Montanan.”
The bill also:
• Rejects proposed cuts to crop insurance and other farm bill programs
• Prohibits closing county Farm Service Agency offices and provides $1.2 billion for the FSA, a significant increase over what Trump had proposed.
• Includes language prohibiting any federal funds from being used to obstruct industrial hemp pilot projects, authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill, so long as they are being cultivated in accordance with the respective state’s laws
• Provides $375 million for the Agriculture and Food Research initiative, $244 million for the Hatch Act formula that funds research at state agriculture experiment stations and $300 million for Sith-Lever programs that support overall extension service activities
• Urges the Food and Drug Administration to collaborate with federal agencies on the opioid epidemic and prepare guidelines to ensure that only the lowest effective dose is prescribed
• Includes funding to continue Hoeven’s Agriculture Risk Coverage pilot program that allows an alternate calculation method for crop payments if National Agricultural Statistics Service data is insufficient
• Maintains funding for the Water Bank initiative, which compensates farmers and landowners for flooded land through 10-year voluntary conservation agreements.
• Directs the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service to work with local, state and federal agencies on managing brucellosis and other zoonotic disease outbreaks in animals and humans and directs funding to advance research into vaccines and other tools to counter the disease
• Maintains fiscal year 2017 funding levels for USDA Rural Development programs including $12.5 billion for loans, $394 million for grants and $18 million for the Circuit Rider program in Rural Water and Waste Programs; $6.94 billion rural electric and telephone infrastructure loans and $30 million in broadband grants.
• Urges the U.S. Trade Representative and Department of Commerce to prioritize unfair wheat grading practices in trade negotiations with Canada
• Provides funding for the U.S. Wheat Barley Scab Initiative to help fight the disease that causes vomitoxin contamination in small grains
• Appropriates $2.75 million for the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas program, which helps find work opportunities for veterans through the Armed to Farm program
• Includes research grants and extension services for Montana’s seven tribal colleges
• Directs USDA to disclose costs associated with analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act.