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Senate approves ag spending bill

The Senate has overwhelming approved its version of the agricultural appropriations bill for fiscal 2004 by a vote of 93 to 1.

The $79.7 billion Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill will now head to a House-Senate conference committee where the differences between the House and Senate versions will be reconciled.

Much of the Senate debate over agriculture-related spending was focused on amendments to the bill, with the issue of country of origin labeling taking up the most time. An amendment reinforcing senators' support of the labeling law was included in the final bill, but an emergency aid package for Midwest farmers hurt by drought was not.

In the bill's conservation title, $826.6 million is set aside to fund conservation operations of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Senate Appropriations Committee has also reiterated its support to maintain the mandatory funding level of $1 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Watershed and flood prevention operations are funded at $55 million, watershed surveys and planning are funded at $10 million, and the watershed rehabilitation program is funded at $29.8 million. The resource conservation and development program is funded at $51 million.

Under the Senate bill, agricultural research and Extension programs will receive $174 million less than they did in the 2003 fiscal year.

Appropriations recommended for the Agricultural Research Service total $1.1 billion. For the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, $1.1 billion is recommended, including $619 million for research and education activities, $450 million for Extension activities, and $46.7 million for integrated activities.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is funded at $707 million, the Agricultural Marketing Service is funded at $75.3 million, and the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration is funded at $35.6 million.

The appropriations bill provides $988.8 million for Farm Service Agency Salaries and Expenses, an increase of $18.4 million over the fiscal 2003 level.

The spending bill also provides an estimated $3.3 billion for farm loans, of which $1.1 billion is for farm ownership direct and guaranteed loans and $2.1 billion is for farm operating direct and guaranteed loans. That total is $663,585 less than the amount budgeted for fiscal 2003.

Funding for the Food Safety and Inspection Service is set at $783.8 million in the bill, which is a $28.9 million increase from the fiscal 2003 level.

The Senate bill sets aside $145.7 million for the Commodity Assistance Program, and $131.7 million in funding for the Foreign Agricultural Service. In addition, a new account has been created for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and child Nutrition Program, which is funded at $25 million.

Funding for salaries and expenses of the Food and Drug Administration total $1.4 billion under the spending bill, which represents an increase of $11.1 million more than the current funding level.

Funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is $88.4 million, $3 million more than the fiscal 2003 level. The bill places a $40.9 million limitation on expenses of the Farm Credit Administration.

Also included in the bill is $11.4 billion for child nutrition programs, $29.9 billion in fund stamp funds, and more than $4.6 billion in money for the supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

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