Farm groups praise, lament omnibus spending bill

Farm groups praise, lament omnibus spending bill

The bill designed to fund the government has a good-news, bad-news feel for agriculture.

Farm groups are weighing in on the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill posted Tuesday. Farm groups are praising some portions, but noting shortfalls in other areas. Here’s a look at what key groups are saying about the measure.

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National Corn Growers Association issued a statement noting that the association applauds Congress moving forward with a bill that would fund government through the end of the fiscal year, but was disappointed that some issues were left unaddressed.

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The bill does repeal country-of-origin-labeling, which the NCGA applauds. “Notably, corn farmers are pleased the Congress included language bringing the United states back into compliance with our WTO obligation by repealing COOL for beef and pork,” says Chip Bowling, president and Maryland farmer. “U.S. livestock accounted for more than 385 of demand for our corn in 2015 and it is important that we will avoid the negative impacts on that and other corn markets which retaliation by Mexico and Canada would have brought about.”

The bill did not include language that would have preempted state-level GMO labeling laws, a measure that was of concern to NCGA and other groups. The bill also doesn’t stand in the way of the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. measure, which farm groups did want to see ended.

NCGA did applaud the tax moves to make the Section 179 deduction permanent at the $500,000 capital expense level rather than the $25,000 level. This move is retroactive to 2015 and “represents an important step for farmers.”

The American Soybean Association also expressed the good-news-bad-news on the bill noting that it’s a good idea to repeal COOL because “this was an issue that impacted both feed grain and oilseed farmers, as well as livestock producers, and we’re happy to see it come to a satisfactory conclusion that avoids retaliation from our valuable trading partners in Canada and Mexico,” says Richard Wilkins, ASA president, Greenwood, Del.

ASA notes the bill does address conservation by maintaining the Conservation Stewardship Program, which also helps fund the Regional Conservation Partnership Programs, on which a lot of soybean growing states are already partnering with USDA.

The omnibus also takes concrete steps to address the waterways infrastructure system that farmers depend on to get beans from the farm to the marketplace. Under the Energy & Water section, the omnibus provides significant increases above FY2015 and the President's 2016 budget request for waterways and ports maintenance and operations, which are priorities for ASA.

The bill also sets aside dedicated funds for USDA disaster assistance programs, which will be of particular use to soybean growers affected by adverse weather events, including those growers suffering significant losses from recent flooding in the Carolinas.

Relate: Link to ag details of the omnibus spending bill

There’s also support for export markets as the bill continues funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development (Cooperator) program at current levels of $200 million and $34.5 million respectively. There’s also added funding of $350 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, and funding for the McGovern/Dole and Food for Peace development and assistance programs.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and ASA, point out that there is a $321 million spending cut in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. NSAC claims that the move will have a direct impact on producers seeking financial and technical assistance for conservation projects, and limit what can be done. For example, NSAC says after last year’s $263 million cut only 23% of eligible applicants got into the program.

The group notes that the bill does boost funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program by nearly 9%, which is the highest funding level since the program was created, however, even at that higher level its far below what researchers have been seeking.

While WOTUS and state-based GMO labeling are left untouched, Bob Stallman, president, American Farm Bureau Federation, calls the bill and overall win for agriculture. However, lack of a provision to stop WOTUS is an issue: “We are truly disappointed that Congress did not include legislation to stop implementation of WOTUS,” says Stallman. “The courts have already expressed serious legal concerns about the rule, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office has concluded that EPA broke the law with its covert propaganda campaign to drum up ill-informed support for it. We remain committed to working with Congress to stop EPA and help America’s landowners, businesses and state and local governments avoid years in court to overturn the rule. This measure undeniably resulted from an illegal and deceptive process. Defeating WOTUS remains a priority of Farm Bureau. We will explore all avenues to ditch the rule.”

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