Farm Bill Implementation: From Capitol Hill to USDA

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By Dustin Baker, National Pork Producers Council

The National Pork Producers Council and its members spent much of the 115th Congress advocating for mandatory federal funds to better prepare for a foreign animal disease outbreak. Pork producers led a three-pronged approach to reduce and respond to disease risks: state block grants for surveillance, diagnostic funding through the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and a robust animal vaccine bank. The victories achieved in the 2018 Farm Bill for U.S. pork have been well-documented. But, what many don’t know is that the current bill includes provisions that represent the largest and, in many ways, first significant ask put forward by pork producers. President Trump signed this win for animal agriculture into law in late December.

Animal disease preparedness funding in the 2018 Farm Bill is a great start: $120 million over the first four years of the bill and $30 million for the three programs in the final year of the bill. It also provides for additional authorization of appropriators by the secretary as deemed necessary and includes funding for vital international market development programs to develop export markets for U.S. farm goods. But the significance of this funding expands beyond the five years of the current bill.

While the allocation of mandatory funds was critical, these provisions were written in a way that makes them permanent in nature beyond the current bill. That is, the animal disease preparedness and management programs are a “baseline” moving forward. The baseline is a projection by the Congressional Budget Office of future federal spending on mandatory programs under current law. Unlike the uphill battle we faced throughout the Farm Bill 2018 drafting process, we will be working off a program that includes these vital funding resources when we reach the 2023 Farm Bill development process. 

Now that the bill has been signed into law, NPPC shifts its focus from Capitol Hill to the USDA as a pork sector resource for implementation of these provisions. The development of a Foot-and-Mouth disease vaccine bank and addressing emerging threats, including African swine fever, are top priorities. The longest partial government shutdown on record prevented the USDA from moving forward on implementation of the Farm Bill right after the first of the year. 

We are eager to work with the USDA as Farm Bill implementation is one of NPPC’s top priorities. While work on this critical issue was delayed, we’re thankful that the USDA has responded favorably to NPPC’s input on essential functions that must remain operational during the shutdown.  The USDA deserves kudos for making livestock mandatory reporting and food inspection functions “essential” during the shutdown. The decision to maintain operations of these critical functions ensures the dissemination of market information that supports a fair and competitive market and the safety of our food.

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Dustin Baker serves as the director of economics and domestic production issues for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). Based out of Washington, D.C., he is responsible for matters such as the farm bill, mandatory price reporting, and issues related to buying and selling hogs and pork. Baker grew up on a livestock farm in central Michigan and holds degrees from Cornell University and Michigan State University.