Vilsack announces ASF, school supply chain, climate initiatives with CCC funding
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $3 billion in USDA expenditures associated with drought, animal health, market disruptions for agricultural commodities, and school food supply chain issues with money coming from the Commodity Credit Corporation, plus a climate-smart initiative that he said “could” be funded through the CCC.
Vilsack made the announcement as part of a speech at Colorado State University.
Vilsack announced the following programs and said the money would come from the CCC, the USDA’s line of credit at the Treasury:
▪ $500 million to support drought recovery and encourage the adoption of water-smart management practices. “From rising temperatures and heat waves, to early snowmelt and low rainfall, record-breaking drought has affected producers across the country and has left ranchers with bare winter pastures and short on hay, and pushed crop producers to adjust to running their operations with a fraction of the water usually available,” USDA said. This assistance will target these challenges and enable USDA’s Farm Production and Conservation agencies to deliver much needed relief and design drought resilience efforts responsive to the magnitude of this crisis, USDA said, but the announcement did not include the ways in which the aid will be delivered.
▪ Up to $500 million to prevent the spread of African swine fever via robust expansion and coordination of monitoring, surveillance, prevention, quarantine, and eradication activities through USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The National Pork Producers Council immediately praised the announcement, with Bob Acord, an NPPC consultant and former APHIS administrator, adding, “To paraphrase then-Vice President Biden, this is a big freakin’ deal. This is unprecedented both in terms of the amount dedicated to one animal disease and of getting the funds upfront, before we have the disease in the U.S.”
▪ Up to $1.5 billion to provide assistance to help schools respond to supply chain disruptions. These funds will support procurement of agricultural commodities and enable USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and Agricultural Marketing Service to enhance the toolbox for school nutrition professionals ensuring students have reliable access to healthy meals. USDA published a fact sheet with details on the program. The Washington Post today noted that school meals programs are having supply chain problems.
▪ $500 million to provide relief from agricultural market disruption, such as increased transportation challenges, availability and cost of certain materials, and other near-term obstacles related to the marketing and distribution of certain commodities. The announcement did not include details on how this aid would be delivered.
But National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern said, “U.S. dairy farmers appreciate USDA’s allocation of Commodity Credit Corp. funds to alleviate the economic damage caused by recent backlogs at U.S. ports that are hindering access to critical markets overseas. Although dairy exports are at a record pace, it is coming at a heavy cost to our members and to exporters of U.S. dairy products. Foreign buyers are demanding even greater volumes while voicing growing concerns about U.S. reliability. We stand ready to assist the administration any way we can to help alleviate the ports crisis and aid those who have been negatively affected.”
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives CEO Chuck Conner added, “Our members continue to see their commodities and food products sitting in ports on the West Coast awaiting shipment while containers return to China and other Asian countries empty; adding to concerns are unprecedented backlogs of ships anchored off the coast waiting for port space. The funding announced today, while not a solution to the situation, will help offset some of the losses faced by producers.”
Vilsack also announced a new Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative to finance the deployment of climate-smart farming and forestry practices to aid in the marketing of climate-smart agricultural commodities. “Guided by science, USDA will support a set of pilot projects that provide incentives to implement climate smart conservation practices on working lands and to quantify and monitor the carbon and greenhouse gas benefits associated with those practices,” the news release said.
In what may be a reaction to Republican opposition to the use of the CCC for climate initiatives, USDA said, “The pilots could rely on the Commodity Credit Corporation’s specific power to aid in expansion or development of new and additional markets,” but he did not say the pilots would rely on CCC funds.
Politico reported that in his speech at Colorado State University, Vilsack said, “I want to be clear: This initiative is not a carbon bank, nor a carbon market. It’s not even a conservation program. …This initiative is first and foremost a commodity program, one that seeks to empower farmers, ranchers, producers and foresters to produce climate-smart commodities, meeting domestic and global consumer demand.”
Republicans have questioned whether carbon can be considered a commodity.
Vilsack did not say exactly how much money would go into the climate-smart pilots.
Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper said in a news release, “Ethanol is the perfect climate-smart commodity, and we look forward to reviewing and commenting on USDA’s new program.”
National Milk also applauded Vilsack for the climate-smart agriculture initiative. Mulhern said, “By aiding the finance of climate-smart farming practices and the marketing of climate-smart commodities, this initiative will ensure even greater U.S. leadership in sustainably feeding the planet. It also will help keep U.S. farmers competitive in a global market that’s increasingly sensitive to agriculture’s effects on climate.”
NCFC’s Conner said, “USDA’s Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative will support the efforts of producers interested in exploring new, innovative approaches to farming that help address the challenge of climate change. This is vital, since farmer co-ops know firsthand that customers for our agricultural products are increasingly giving preference to those produced with climate-friendly farming practices. We believe that this partnership will help prepare American agriculture to meet those requirements and believe that farmer co-ops are well positioned to play a key role in projects that bring producers together in this way.”
USDA also noted it has published a Request for Information seeking public comment and input on the design of the new initiative.
“Through extreme weather, drought and fire, our agriculture producers are on the frontlines of climate change,” said Vilsack. “The new Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative will support pilots that create new market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices and position U.S. farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners as leaders in addressing climate change. The pilots will invest in the science, monitoring and verification to measure the benefits of these climate-smart practices. Today, we ask for public input to inform our decision making and enhance the design of this initiative.”
Comments may be provided on or before 11:59 p.m. EST Nov. 1, via the Federal Register, Docket ID: USDA-2021-0010. USDA is seeking input specifically on:
▪ The current state of climate-smart commodity markets;
▪ Systems for quantification;
▪ Options and criteria for evaluation;
▪ Use of information collected;
▪ Potential protocols;
▪ Options for review and verification; and
▪ Inclusion of historically underserved communities.
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