The House passed a $93.6 billion agricultural appropriations bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, after turning back efforts to scrap funding for agricultural research and international market promotion and to shift dollars for the fiscal year 2007 cotton and rice programs to create block grants for the states. The vote was 378-46.

Members also defeated by a vote of 281-135 an amendment that would have lowered the loan rate for raw cane sugar from 18 cents to 17 cents per pound and 22.9 to 21.6 cents for refined beet sugar. And they voted against extending the peanut storage program and the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC).

The bill provides $18.4 billion in total discretionary spending, representing a decrease of $96 million below the fiscal year 2006 enacted level but $564 million more than President Bush’s budget request. The bill also contains $76.1 billion in mandatory spending, primarily for farm programs and food stamps.

An amendment offered by Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, D-N.Y., provided a few moments of anxiety for cotton and rice industry representatives who were following the debate on the ag appropriations bill on May 23.

Weiner’s amendment would have authorized the secretary of agriculture to use funds “that otherwise would be paid during fiscal year 2007 as direct payments and counter-cyclical payments for cotton and rice production” for blocks grants to agricultural producers in all of the states.

Rep, Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, chairman of the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, raised a point of order against the amendment, saying it would change existing law and constituted legislation in an appropriations bill. The chair sustained the point of order.

The House also rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, to terminate funding for the Market Access Program, 342-79. The program provides grants to a number of organizations for market development work overseas.

The appropriations bill will provide funding for a number of projects important to farmers, including $40.2 million to the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service for cost-share funds for the boll weevil and pink bollworm eradication programs. It also restores funding for the Lubbock and Las Cruces, N.M., ginning laboratories, which had been targeted for elimination in the Bush administration’s budget proposal.

Passage of the ag appropriations bill by the House – the Senate has not begun work on its legislation – comes at a time when all areas of the federal government are under pressure to try to reduce the federal deficit, which could reach $316 billion at the end of fiscal year 2006.

Farm groups said they were happy that the House responded positively to a number of funding requests rather than acceding to the administration demands for cuts of about $4 billion in fiscal 2007.

“Corn growers understand the tight budget environment we are in, and we are pleased that Congress has passed a spending bill that we believe will protect the current farm programs,” said Lisa Kelley, the National Corn Growers Association’s director of public policy.

“We are especially pleased with the increase in funding for the Agriculture Research Service to conduct pre-harvest control of aflatoxin research (funded at $838,237, an increase from $742,500, the FY 2006 funding level).”

Kelley said the NCGA was also gratified by the support corn growers and other producers showed for the Market Access Program, which was funded at $200 million in the fiscal 2007 agricultural appropriations bill.

“The outcome of this vote reflects the hard work from everyone involved in agriculture to educate their representatives as to how MAP helps create export opportunities overseas and jobs here at home for American agriculture,” Kelley said.

The FY 2007 agriculture spending bill does provide 7 percent less funding to conservation programs. The House rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., to restore acreage in the wetlands reserve program to the maximum 250,000 acres authorized by the 2002 farm bill. But it restored $40 million to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

NCGA’s other funding priorities in the agriculture appropriations bill included the APHIS Biotechnology Regulatory Service, funded at $11.343 million; the Foreign Market Development Program, funded at $34.5 million; National Research Initiative, funded at $190 million; and the Value-Added Product Market Development Grant Program, funded at $28 million.

The House also defeated an amendment offered by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to reduce the loan rates for the sugar program. The cuts would have cost sugar producers about $165 million, according to the American Sugar Alliance.

Opponents claim the sugar program, which operates at no cost to the government, drives up sugar prices above what they would be if prices reflected the world market. But a study by LMC International says the average U.S. sugar price of 43 cents per pound is 13 cents a pound lower than the average for other developed countries of 56 cents per pound.

Dairy industry representatives, meanwhile, were upset that the Milk Income Loss Contract program’s expiration date was not extended to coincide with that of the 2002 farm bill.

The House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment offered by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., that would have extended the MILC program from its current expiration date of Aug. 31, 2007 to Sept. 30, 2007, the day the funding runs out for the 2007 farm bill.

But House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., raised a procedural objection to including an extension for the MILC program and for a handling and storage fees program for peanuts, scheduled to expire at the end of the current year, in the House bill.

“Not closing the MILC gap places dairy producers on an un-level playing field heading into the next farm bill,” said Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union. “NFU will work with the Senate to ensure the MILC gap is closed and calls on the House Agriculture Committee to ensure dairy producers are not left behind in the next farm bill.”

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