R&D in the FY 2014 Omnibus: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Most research programs would end up close to the Senate numbers and 2012 levels, but funding remains low by historical standards.

Under the recent FY 2014 omnibus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would receive $2.3 billion for R&D per AAAS estimates. In nominal dollars, this represents a rough midpoint between the President's request and FY 2013 post-sequester spending: specifically, a 7.3 percent increase above FY 2013, and 7.9 percent below the request.

It would also return nominal overall funding to very near FY 2012 levels pre-sequestration; inflation turns this into a 4.3 percent cut or so from FY 2012. However, this isn't quite an apples-to-apples comparison. FY 2012 USDA R&D, which stood at $2.331 billion (compared to our current estimate of $2.325 billion for FY 2014), included $40 million in mandatory funding for the Biomass R&D program. The FY 2014 figures don't yet include this program for reasons explained below.

Some observations (assuming the above numbers hold up and Congress passes the bill as expected):

  • R&D program support ended up pretty close to the higher Senate numbers across the board.

  • The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) had proposed funding for the design and construction of the Biocontainment Laboratory and Consolidated Poultry Research Facility, which shows up as the $155 million in the Buildings & Facilities account, but appropriators in both chambers have declined to provide it. As written previously, the project is intended to upgrade existing Biosafety Level-2 and -3 facilities in Athens, GA. Per a review ordered by Congress and the Secretary of Agriculture, the Athens facilities, which perform research in emerging diseases and food safety, are in need of modernization.

  • The competitive Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would continue its recent growth, ending up at the Senate recommendation and jumping nearly 20 percent above FY 2012 funding.

  • Overall R&D at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), AFRI's parent program, appears to fall short of FY 2012 levels. But as mentioned above, this comparison isn't quite apples-to-apples, due to the situation surrounding the Biomass R&D Initiative. That program, a joint initiative of USDA, the Dept. of Energy, and other agencies, had been authorized to receive mandatory funding via the Farm Bill for a number of years, but this authorization ran out in FY 2012. It's funding status for FY 2014 depends on what happens in the ongoing Farm Bill negotiations. The House version of that bill would convert the initiative to a discretionary program; the Senate version would authorize discretionary appropriations, but also provide some mandatory funding as well.

  • The U.S. Forest Service was among the environmental agencies on the chopping block in the House, but those cuts have been averted.

  • While these are positive outcomes in the current fiscal environment, USDA R&D will likely remain low compared with relatively recent history (below chart). In the early years of the George W. Bush Administration, USDA R&D regularly approached $3 billion in constant dollars. But since FY 2006, this funding has come down quite a bit, even as the profile of competitive extramural research has risen. Our current estimates for FY 2014 would represent a decline of 18.2 percent from FY 2006 levels, adjusted for inflation.