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Federal ag spending for 2015 passes committee: Funds would give millions to US producers

A U.S. Senate committee has approved millions in funding for initiatives benefiting North Dakota farmers in 2015.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture negotiated its federal spending plan for the next fiscal year, which passed through the main committee on Wednesday.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., served on the subcommittee, and said its provisions will be “very helpful for our farmers and ranchers.”

One of Hoeven’s main provisions includes supporting an acre-for-acre tradeoff in working with farmers to meet new conservation compliance requirements. The 2014 Farm Bill tied wetlands conservation to crop insurance, but affected farmers can use an acre in exchange for protecting another, federally protected one.

“It will really help make the conservation compliance rules more farmers friendly,” Hoeven said.

The bill will provide $2.4 billion for agriculture research and development nationally, down from $2.64 billion in 2013.

Ken Grafton, vice president for agricultural affairs at North Dakota State University, said he is content with 2015 figures.

Federal funding makes up only about 7 percent of NDSU’s research budget. But, the university must use 25 percent of fund it does receive to participate in numerous inter-state projects, on topics ranging from animal nutrition to economics, he said.

“It allows our faculty and scientists to interact with their colleagues across the country,” Grafton said.

The bill will allot $4 million for the Water Bank program, which opened its enrollment to North Dakota in 2014. The program compensates landowners in the case of flooding by encouraging wetlands conservation agreements. Funding remains the same in 2015.

Funding levels will be preserved for Farm Service Agency County offices. More money will be available for the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement program, which FSA offices administer, offering incentives to farmers to preserve wildlife habitats.

Peter Solemsaas, executive director of the FSA office in Dickinson, said federal money is needed to insure farmers in cases of disaster. FSA employees are needed to educate about the new Farm Bill, he said.

About $15.9 million will be supplied for circuit riders technical assistance, which helps rural communities manage their water supplies. About $6.5 million will go to the Grassroots Source Water Protection program, which educates farmers, ranchers and producers how to prevent drinking water pollution.

Funds will increase by $4 million for the USDA Agricultural Research Service to study bee colony disorders, a major issue for state farmers, Hoeven said. North Dakota leads the country in honey production.

The bill will also furnish more support to alfalfa growers, potato breeding research, deer farmers and veterinary medical loan repayment.