Despite a clerical error, which omitted 34 pages of legislation, the House and Senate have now voted to override President Bush’s veto of H.R. 2419, the "Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008" (i.e., the farm bill). Despite a bipartisan, veto-proof majority in Congress, President Bush rejected the farm bill stating, “For a year and a half, I have consistently asked that the Congress pass a good farm bill that I can sign. Regrettably, the Congress has failed to do so. At a time of high food prices and record farm income, this bill lacks program reform and fiscal discipline.”

On 22 May, the Senate joined the House in overriding the 21 May presidential veto. The House voted 316-108 while the Senate voted 82-13 to pass the farm bill. The vote was the second time Congress has been able to overcome Bush since he took office in 2000. The first veto override was for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) last year. Similar to the WRDA, which oversees funding for various water projects, the farm bill includes a number of programs with strong congressional support. The $286 billion five-year authorization increases funding for some conservation programs, including more than $400 million in new funding to help farmers install on-the-ground conservation practices that help prevent farm runoff.

Basic agricultural research could also see some increases in funding as well as some streamlining. The farm bill establishes the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which replaces the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service – the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) extramural funding branch. NIFA is to be headed by a distinguished scientist, appointed by the President, with recommendations made by the National Academies of Science. The Institute will house the premier research program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which will provide competitive grants to colleges and universities, agricultural experiment stations, and other organizations conducting research in priority areas. AFRI’s budget will be authorized at $700 million per fiscal year, $200 million above the authorized level for the National Research Initiative (NRI). Of note, the actual appropriation for NRI in recent years has been roughly $180 million.

The farm bill, according to statement released by the House Committee on Agriculture will, “reinvigorate national investment in agricultural research by creating NIFA, address the growing list of needs in agricultural research, extension and education for food and agricultural sciences, and increase research for renewable fuels, feed stocks and energy efficiency.”

 


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