Johanns puts Bush budget on table


WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns released details Feb. 6 of President Bush’s FY 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture budget.
Total USDA expenditures are estimated at about $93 billion in 2007, nearly $3 billion below the 2006 level.
Roughly 77 percent of expenditures, or $71.3 billion in 2007, will be for mandatory programs, which include many of the nutrition assistance, commodity, export promotion and conservation programs.
Discretionary programs. USDA’s discretionary programs account for the remaining 23 percent of expenditures or $21.5 billion in 2007, a decrease of $1.2 billion from 2006.
Discretionary programs include the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program; rural development loans and grants; research and education; soil and water conservation technical assistance; management of national forests and domestic marketing assistance.
Highlights of the FY 2007 budget include:
* Avian influenza. The 2007 budget includes $82 million for USDA’s domestic surveillance and preparedness efforts. Excluding emergency funding in 2006, this is a $66 million increase in avian influenza efforts from 2006.
In response to the president’s request, Congress provided over $91 million in 2006 for USDA to start efforts to prepare for a potential influenza pandemic. Those funds will be used for international efforts; domestic surveillance of poultry and migratory birds; diagnostics; emergency preparedness and response; and related research.
* Food and agriculture defense initiative. The budget proposes $322 million in USDA funding for the multi-agency Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative, which is funded at nearly $540 million government-wide.
Funding increases include: $23 million in increases to strengthen the Food Emergency Response Network and the Regional Diagnostic Network; $42 million in increases for research to ensure food safety, develop improved animal vaccines and better understand the genes that provide disease resistance and; $62 million in increases to enhance surveillance.
* Energy initiatives. For 2007, USDA’s core investment in energy-related projects increases to $85 million from $67 million in 2006. This funding includes resources to support renewable energy research and demonstration projects and additional efforts to support energy development and transmission across public lands.
In addition, the budget provides in excess of $250 million each year in fiscal years 2006 and 2007 for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.
* Commodity Credit Corporation. Net CCC expenditures were over $20 billion in 2005 and are projected to exceed $21 billion in 2006 before coming down to around $19 billion in 2007.
In 2007, the reduction of over $2 billion in CCC expenditures is expected because of lower emergency disaster assistance, projected modest commodity-price improvements for some crops and the proposed legislative changes to reduce farm support program spending.
Elements of the proposed reforms, which are similar to last year’s proposals, include: lowering the payment limit cap for individuals to $250,000 for commodity payments, including all types of marketing loan gains; reducing crop and dairy payments to farmers by 5 percent, requiring the dairy price-support program to minimize expenditures; and imposing a sugar marketing assessment to be paid by sugar processors on all processed sugar and implementing a small assessment on milk marketed by producers.
Crop insurance. The budget includes proposals to enhance crop insurance coverage, and reduce costs to deliver the program, so that crop insurance will provide coverage that is sufficient to sustain most farmers in times of loss.
Proposals include a higher minimum coverage level, tying the receipt of commodity payments to purchase of crop insurance and changes in fees, premium rates and delivery expenses.
* Nutrition assistance. The budget fully funds the expected requirements for USDA’s three major nutrition assistance programs: Food Stamps, School Lunch and WIC, which combined account for nearly $55 billion.
WIC participation will grow slowly to 8.2 million participants. School Lunch participation is estimated to reach a record-level 30.9 million children each day. Food Stamp participation is projected to decline by about 1 million in 2007, to 25.9 million.
* Conservation programs. The budget proposes more than $4 billion to continue implementation of the conservation programs authorized in the 2002 farm bill and support the enrollment of an additional 23 million acres, mostly through EQIP.
In dollar terms, the largest of these programs is the Conservation Reserve Program, estimated at $2.1 billion in 2007.
The budget provides $83 million in additional resources to extend the Conservation Security Program in 2007. In 2005, CSP was offered in 220 watersheds and in 2006, the program will be offered in an additional 60 watersheds.
The budget includes more than $400 million for the Wetlands Reserve Program.
* Forests. The budget continues implementation of the President’s Healthy Forests Initiative to mitigate the threat of catastrophic wildfires. Resources proposed in the budget will reduce hazardous fuels on an estimated 3.2 million acres of land, an increase of 150,000 acres over the acres expected to be treated in 2006.
The budget also includes $1.8 billion to protect communities and natural resources from wildland fire and provides for sustainable forests and communities through full funding of the Northwest Forest Plan and extension of Payments to States legislation.


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