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USDA Research, Construction Slated For Varying Increases By Appropriators

While research and development funding at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) remains more than 10 percent below where it was a decade ago, agricultural R&D programs nevertheless look set to sustain their bounceback from sequestration, under spending bills recently approved by appropriations committees in both the House and the Senate. Both intramural and extramural research would make at least small gains in both committee bills, with the House Committee providing a major influx of $155 million for construction of a poultry research facility by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Excluding the Forest Service, which is appropriated in a different bill, USDA R&D would remain ahead of inflation in FY 2015 in both bills, though floor proceedings await in both chambers.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its bill May 22 on a unanimous 30-0 vote, while the House Appropriations Committee voted earlier today, May 29, to pass its own bill on a 31-18 vote.

The President's base budget for USDA (see Chapters 10 and 27 of the FY 2015 AAAS R&D report for more) suggested a shift from intramural to extramural research, seeking a 1.6 percent cut to intramural research at the ARS but an 8.6 increase for extramural research at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Appropriators in both chambers would moderate this shift somewhat. Both committees granted ARS modest funding increases above both FY 2014 and the request, with the aforementioned construction funding particularly prominent in the House bill. Meanwhile, NIFA received a clear increase in the Senate above FY 2014, though the House was less generous, and both fell short of the request. Both committees would also exceed the request for Economic Research Service (ERS) funding.

Agricultural Research Service. Only about $19 million separates House and Senate committee funding levels for base programs at ARS, with the Senate above the House, and both above the request. But the additional $155 million for construction puts the House well above the Senate. That funding, provided via an amendment offered by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), would fully fund construction of a replacement for the Southeast Poultry Disease Research Laboratory in Athens, GA. The project to replace the current 40-year-old facility received the bureau's top priority in the ARS Capital Investment Strategy (PDF), issued in 2012. USDA had requested project funding in FY 2014, but Congress declined to provide it. The proposal resurfaced in this year's request as part of the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative (OGSI), "extra" funding proposed on top of the base budget, and it thus appears to be the first item taken from that extra request and added to regular appropriations.

Appropriators in both committees listed several priorities for ARS in the bill reports. Among other items, the Senate report contained language encouraging ARS to work with university partners to optimize the use of lab facilities and maximize limited research dollars; provided $4 million for pollinator health; and encouraged a pilot program for regional innovation and commercialization. Both committees made special mention of the Pulse Crop Health Initiative, recently established in the Farm Bill, and the Aerial Application Technology Program, and offered supportive language on research in an array of fields covering crop and plant science, wildlife, natural resources, and nutrition.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Discretionary NIFA funding would remain ahead of inflation in neither chamber, and would actually be cut very slightly in the House, but the research budget for NIFA would nevertheless rise in both chambers, due in part to a 2.8 percent or $9 million increase for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), USDA's premier competitive research program. The $325 million for AFRI given by both committees matches USDA's base budget request, though much more was sought as part of the OGSI. Both committees also matched the request for Hatch Act funding for state-based research labs, keeping funding flat from FY 2014 levels at $243.7 million.

The Administration had also requested $75 million to establish three public-private innovation institutes administered by NIFA, but appropriators in neither chamber provided this funding.

Both bills await floor action in their respective chambers.