Fresh off our 121st Anniversary Convention in San Francisco, NFU returned to Washington with a fresh policy book and a slate of special orders to champion. This year, the appropriations timeline has tightened considerably, as pressure builds on Capitol Hill for spending cuts amidst divided government and the upcoming budgetary and farm bill deadlines. With this in mind, NFU has finalized and begun advocating for its Farm Bill and appropriations priorities, as we hope to continue delivering results for family farmers and ranchers.
NFU SUBMITS FY24 APPROPRIATIONS PRIORITIES
In late March and early April, NFU submitted testimony on its Fiscal Year 2024 (FY 2024) appropriations priorities to the agriculture subcommittees of the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
- Increased funding for Packers & Stockyards Act (P&S Act) enforcement from $30 million in FY23 to $35 million in FY 2024, and opposition to efforts to interfere with USDA’s rulemaking authority and ongoing P&S Act rulemaking.
- Strong funding for the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to build fairer and more competitive markets, including through the ongoing “Product of USA” labeling rulemaking, and funding for reductions in overtime and holiday inspection fees for small and very small establishments.
- No less than $1.2 million for Conservation Operations for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to ensure additional resources for Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA), including $30 million for the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) to ensure specialized technical assistance funding to support pasture and grazing management.
- Increased funding for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) to $12 million, up from the current level of $10 million.
- No less than $15 million for grants through the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program for Cooperative Development Centers.
- Full funding for the ReConnect Loan and Grant Program for rural broadband.
- Ongoing support from USDA and FDA for outreach, education, and technical assistance to small- and mid-sized, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers and processors to help them comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
On March 9, President Biden submitted his FY 2024 budget request to Congress. The budget includes proposed changes to both mandatory spending levels (which are dictated by laws such as the farm bill and others), as well as changes in discretionary funding levels determined through annual appropriations. Under President Biden’s proposal, discretionary funding for USDA would rise approximately 14 percent under the White House budget to about $30 billion in FY24.
Additionally, NFU was among the signers of a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Budget Committees – which also play a key role in the annual budget and appropriations processes. The letter asks the budget committees to provide the agriculture committees with “sufficient budgetary resources to write a new bipartisan, multi-year, comprehensive, and meaningful” farm bill.
USDA ANNOUNCEMENTS: “PRODUCT OF USA” LABELING, MEAT AND POULTRY PROCESSING
Over the past month, USDA made a string of announcements advancing the Biden-Harris Administration’s Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain, as well as the efforts at USDA to boost competition and expand domestic production in the fertilizer industry.
Under a proposed rule issued by USDA on March 6, the voluntary “Product of USA” label will now require all steps in the production chain occur in the U.S. in order for a meat or egg product to bear the label. Secretary Vilsack announced this rule while speaking at NFU’s national convention in San Francisco.
The current rules for the label allow meat from animals that spent some of their lifespan outside of the U.S. to be labeled as “Product of USA,” which runs counter to consumer expectations from such a label. While this new rule is a not a replacement for mandatory country-of-origin labeling, it is a major step in the right direction. NFU continues to advocate for mandatory COOL legislation, like the American Beef Labeling Act, to provide consumers with the information they seek about their food and the opportunity to American farmers and ranchers to convey that information clearly, accurately, and consistently.
USDA also announced nearly $200 million in investments to increase independent meat and poultry processing capacity. The investments were announced as part of the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program (MPPEP) and the Meat and Poultry Intermediary Lending Program (MPILP). The programs are aimed at helping processors increase capacity and finance independent processing startups. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) also announced investments into meat and poultry processing research, focused on developing and deploying emerging technologies and making applied research more accessible to independent producers, cooperatives, and worker associations.
As part of USDA’s Fertilizer Production Expansion Program (FPEP), USDA announced a $29 million investment to help increase production of American-made fertilizer, as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to spur competition, provide U.S. farmers with more choices and fairer prices, and reduce dependence on foreign fertilizer sources, such as Russia and Belarus.
In May 2022, amidst robust demand, President Biden directed USDA to increase the program from $250 million to $500 million. USDA received nearly $3 billion in applications for crop years 2023 and 2024. As fertilizer prices have skyrocketed due to a lack of competition in the industry and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the FPEP program will be critical to ensuring the long-term availability of American-made fertilizer for farmers.
YEAR-ROUND E15; LOW-CARBON, HIGH-OCTANE FUELS
Throughout March, there have been several developments in Congress and from the Biden Administration that will have major implications for the production of biofuels in the years ahead.
On March 1, the EPA approved petitions from eight states to allow for year-round sales of E15, starting in 2024. The proposal covers petitions from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. NFU has urged the Biden Administration to allow E15 usage for the upcoming summer driving season, as was done last year. NFU continues to advocate for higher blends, such as E30, for greater reductions in air pollutants while increasing octane.
Over on Capitol Hill, two key pieces of legislation have been reintroduced in the 118th Congress. On March 14, Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act of 2023. This legislation will enable the year-round, nationwide sale of E15 and permanently extend the Reid vapor pressure (RVP) volatility waiver to ethanol blends above 10 percent, providing nationwide uniformity across U.S. fuel markets. Reps. Adrian Smith (R-NE-03) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA-01) are leading companion legislation in the House. NFU endorsed this legislation in the 117th Congress and is pleased with its quick reintroduction.
On March 22, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) announced the reintroduction of the Next Generation Fuels Act, with Rep. Miller-Meeks sponsoring the House companion. This legislation establishes a minimum research octane number (RON) standard of 98 for gasoline, requires the added octane value to reduce carbon emissions by at least 40 percent compared to regular gasoline, and incentivizes vehicle technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase fuel economy.
NFU will pursue the passage of both bills this Congress. NFU supports efforts to expand the production and sale of E15, while noting use of higher-level blends of ethanol, like E30, would add additional benefits to the economy, the environment, and America’s farmers.