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Feds Give Ag Research, School Lunch Programs More Money; End Air Pollution-Reporting Requirements

U.S. Department of Agriculture file photo

Meant to fund the federal government through early September, the $1.3 trillion bill signed by President Donald Trump last week also includes money and changes for ag-related programs beyond the “ grain-glitch” fix.

One beneficiary is the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, or AFRI, which saw a $25 million increase to $400 million. The peer-reviewed program promotes research of health and safety of crops and farming, as well as farming-practice impacts on people, the environment and the economy.

May Berenbaum, a professor and head of entomology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, received funding through AFRI for her recent work on the health of honey bees.

She said the program is “the heart of competitive research for the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), and competitive research is sort of the gold standard for advancing scientific knowledge.”

Berenbaum added that the research isn’t just for farmers, but also helps anyone who eats.

Last year, AFRI grants funded 25 research projects in Illinois, 28 in Iowa, 19 in Nebraska and Kansas, 17 in Missouri and 23 in Colorado, among many others.

Other things in the bill:

  • An end to pollution-reporting requirements for large-scale livestock operations: Hog, poultry, egg and cattle feeding lots won’t have to report levels of hydrogen sulfide or ammonia levels from fecal pits. Industry groups had argued that it would be too burdensome and costly. Thousands of farmers would have had to start doing that on May 1 if not for the change, which  is in line with the Trump administration’s call for regulatory rollbacks.


  • Farm to web: The U.S. Department of Agriculture will get a $600 million grant and loan program to expand broadband internet to rural and underserved areas. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said doing so could help people bridge the so-called “digital divide” that limits rural areas’ learning and connection with more urban areas. But expanding internet access isn’t cheap, as experts have noted.

  • Research funding: The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative will see a $25 million increase to $400 million this year. The program studies everything from bee deaths to “perpetual vaccines” for animals. Last year, grants from that program funded 25 research projects in Illinois, 28 in Iowa, 19 in Nebraska and Kansas, 17 in Missouri and 23 in Colorado, among many others.

  • Big data: Almost $87 million goes to the Economic Research Service to analyze ag trends and economies. That’s nearly $10 million more than had been requested, but total funding isn’t much more than the program has had in recent years. Another $1.2 billion will go to the Agriculture Research Service, which is the USDA’s main in-house research facility that tries to find solutions to national agricultural problems. Its funding is slightly down from last year but up about $200 million from USDA’s request.

  • Firefighting funds: The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management now can access disaster funds for expensive fires. Before this, the agencies borrowed money from federal fire prevention efforts to fuel more urgent firefighting plans. Colorado senators publicly praised the change, and Perdue said last week in a news release it’ll help “mitigate the frequency and severity of future fire seasons.”

  • Livestock haulers: The bill extends the delay for livestock haulers to follow the electronic-logging device mandate.  Haulers now won’t have to log hours and limit their time behind the wheel until at least Sept. 30, giving the Department of Transportation time to work with the livestock industry on how to change rules so that animals aren’t stranded in trucks.

  • Nutrition programs: School lunch programs will get an extra $2 million more, boosting overall funding to $24.25 million. But the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly referred to as food stamps, was cut by about $4 billion to $74 billion (though that’s more funding than the $73.6 billion request). Lawmakers on the House Agriculture Committee are debating changes for SNAP, which is about 80 percent of the farm bill that’s up for renewal this year.
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    Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative. Beck is from a small cow ranch in Manhattan, Montana. Her previous work was mostly based in the western U.S., but she has covered agriculture, environment and health issues from Alaska to Washington, D.C. Before joining Harvest and the Illinois Newsroom, she was as an energy reporter based in Wyoming for the public radio collaborative Inside Energy. Other publications include the Idaho Mountain Express, E&E News/EnergyWire, KRBD Rainbird Radio, the Montana Broadcasters Association, Montana Public Radio and the Tioga Tribune.