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President signs '04 appropriations bill

The signing came only four days after the Senate passed the appropriations conference report, 65-28, nearly four months after the beginning of the government’s 2004 fiscal year on Oct. 1. It combines seven spending bills, including that for USDA, because Congress wasn’t able to pass the individual spending measures on time.

The legislation provides $80.6 billion for agriculture programs and USDA operations, including $16.9 billion in discretionary spending that would be about $1 billion less than the amount in that category in the FY2003 budget.

Mandatory spending for farm programs would be raised from $25.5 billion in FY03 to $26.8 billion in FY04, primarily to replenish funds paid out for drought assistance by the Commodity Credit Corp. CCC would receive $990 million of the $1.3 billion increase with the remainder going to the USDA’s Federal Crop Insurance Corp. fund.

Funding for the boll weevil and pink bollworm eradication programs is included in funds designated for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The bill also provides $125 million for the Market Access Program, which helps fund Cotton Council International’s market development program.

The House-Senate Conference Committee that worked on the bill “un-capped” the Conservation Security Program, which had been limited to $3.77 billion in funding over 10 years. The new legislation gives $41.4 million in funding to the CSP for FY04 and leaves the program open as an entitlement with no caps.

However, the funding can be limited by appropriations bills in any one year, according to language in the new law.

The legislation reduces funding for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program from $1 billion to $975 million or about $25 million below the amount authorized annually in the 2002 farm bill.

It also provides $11 million for textile research, including $1 million to find a chemical tracer that could be attached to apparel and textile products to help determine their country of origin if they are trans-shipped through third countries to take advantage of free trade agreements.

Another $3 million would go to fund apparel and supply chain research at a facility in Raleigh, N.C., that is supported by Cotton Incorporated, Land’s End, VF Corp. and Russell Corp. The National Textile Center, a consortium of universities with textile research programs, would receive $7 million.

As most farmers and ranchers know, the new law delays the implementation of country-of-origin labeling for most meat products until the fall of 2006, one of the issues that led to threats of a filibuster against the bill by Senate Democrats and a delay in Senate action until Jan. 22.

Democrats also criticized provisions of the bill that reportedly make it easier for employers to stop paying overtime to white-collar workers and language allowing large media corporations to own more than one TV station in a single market.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., indicated Democrats would attempt to revisit the delay on COOL implementation and the changes in labor law in new legislation during this session of Congress.

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