2007 Farm Bill could affect U’s research

Farm bill-authorized funds cover about 29 percent of the University Extension Service’s budget.

Liz Riggs

Although it’s called the farm bill, perhaps the most common misconception about this massive piece of federal legislation is that it deals strictly with farming.

In actuality, the farm bill encompasses a variety of issues – from forestry and energy to trade and nutrition programs – many of which affect the University.

“A lot of people don’t realize that it funds a lot of programs outside of agriculture,” said Bev Durgan, dean of the University Extension Service.

The Extension Service, which is responsible for taking research and information that comes out of the University and making it useful for people throughout Minnesota, receives about 29 percent of its overall budget from farm bill-authorized funds, Durgan said.

Nutrition education targeted at low-income families is just one example of how federal funding is being utilized by the Extension Service.

“Last year, our nutrition education programs reached over 50,000 Minnesotans (throughout the state),” Durgan said.

The farm bill is one of the main ways that Congress sets U.S. agricultural policy for a fixed period of time, usually lasting five or six years, or until a new agenda is determined.

The last time a farm bill was passed by Congress was in 2002, and the latest version of the legislation, the 2007 Farm Bill, is subject to a vote on the Senate floor sometime next week.

Kent Olson, an applied economics professor who has given informational presentations on the farm bill, said the newest version of the bill still has a way to go before it could become law.

Olson said if the version of the bill that passes in the Senate is different from the version passed by the House, it would be sent to a conference committee in which certain members of both the House and Senate would tackle the differences together.

The bill would then move on to President George W. Bush, who has already voiced concerns about how much money is included for subsidies.

Several Minnesota lawmakers serve in key positions on the U.S. Senate and House Agricultural Committees, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

While Olson said it is likely the 2007 Farm Bill will pass sometime early next year, he wouldn’t be shocked if it didn’t pass, either.

“(There’s still) a somewhat decent probability that they will extend the current law for two years at least,” he said.

So what does this all mean for the University?

In terms of research funding, Allen Levine – dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences – said so many of the University’s projects are co-funded that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how much of its funding comes from the farm bill specifically.

Levine said University projects currently receiving federal funding range from biofuels projects and conservation work to food safety

“There’s a lot of very exciting work that partially gets funded through this farm bill,” Levine said. “Of course we’re a big state in terms of soybean and corn production and Farm Bill funding helps with the growth in that area, (too),” he said.

But Levine was careful to point out that it’s not just CFANS that serves to benefit from the farm bill either. Colleges including the Institute of Technology and the College of Biological Sciences also have important stakes in the legislation.

“All these farm bill-related issues, they’re not owned by our college Ö we’re primarily involved, but there are many others,” Levine said.