Policy quick hits: U.S to provide $1 billion in emergency food assistance

Also: Ag groups want reports back and lawmakers offer new support for specialty crops.

April 22, 2024

5 Min Read
U.S. capitol building with flag background
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There’s never a shortage of agriculture news. Here are a few policy stories you may have missed over the past week.

Biden administration earmarks $1 billion for emergency food aid

The Biden administration will allocate $1 billion in Commodity Credit Corporation funding for emergency international food assistance. Approximately $950 million of that will be used purchase, ship and distribute American-made wheat, rice, sorghum, lentils, chickpeas, dry peas, vegetable oil, cornmeal, navy beans, pinto beans and kidney beans. USDA will purchase those commodities and transfer them to USAID for distribution.

The remaining $50 million will support a pilot program to utilized U.S. commodities not usually included in international food assistance programs. The pilot program will focus on shelf-stable items suitable for feeding food-insecure communities. USAID is working to determine which commodities are most appropriate without disrupting local markets.

“With many millions of people in dire need worldwide, the U.S. agricultural sector is well positioned to provide lifesaving food assistance,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says. “The United States produces more commodities than are consumed, and therefore has the opportunity to partner with USAID and extend this food to those in our global community who are struggling.”

The initial round of funding will help food-insecure people in 18 countries, including Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Yemen.

Ag groups want USDA reports to continue

Ag groups are speaking out against a recent USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service decision to eliminate multiple reports.

Earlier this month, NASS announced it would no longer provide July cattle industry surveys. It also plans to scrap county-level crop and livestock estimates as well as the cotton objective yield survey. USDA chief economist Seth Meyer blamed funding shortfalls for the decision.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane said it was “disingenuous for same agency which touts its commitment to transparency in livestock markets to arbitrarily cease publication of reports which provide just that.”

Officials from the American Farm Bureau Federation called for the reports to be reinstated. AFBF President Zippy Duvall says eliminating the mid-year cattle report puts the market in the dark for the second half of the year. He fears data will only be available to those who can afford to collect it, further threatening competition in the packing sector.

“Eliminating county-level yield and production data for crops and livestock will also severely impact research from our land-grant institutions and only place the U.S. farther behind its trade competitors,” Duvall says. “Recent research by USDA’s Economic Research Service showed that the U.S. trails its global competitors in public agricultural research.”

Officials with the National Grain and Feed Association say the reports are critical to agribusiness operations. NGFA President Mike Seyfert sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack saying his members use county estimates to build supply and demand estimates. Without them, he believes there will be supply chain ramifications.

Renewable Fuels Association President Geoff Cooper also penned a letter to USDA, arguing, “with the rapid emergence of state and federal climate policies that will compel ethanol producers to carefully track certain feedstock characteristics, the availability of robust county-level data has never been more important.”

Despite the overwhelming backlash, Meyer is standing by his decision so far. While saying he did not want to eliminate the reports, budget realities made it a necessary decision.

House lawmakers announce Congressional Specialty Crop Caucus

Last week, Reps. David Rouzer, R-N.C., David Valadao, R-Calif., Jim Costa, D- Calif., and Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., announced the launch of the bipartisan Congressional Specialty Crops Caucus. They say the new group will highlight issues facing the specialty crop industry.

The caucus vows to collaborate on legislation supporting special crop producers. It will focus on issues like market access, research funding and sustainability. According to a release from the caucus, specialty crops account for more than a third of farm gate value. The industry supports approximately 2.2 million jobs and contributed $120.6 billion in labor income to the U.S. economy last year.

Specialty crops include everything from fruits and tree nuts to vegetables, horticulture, herbs, nursery crops and even ornamentals like Christmas trees. Rep. Valadao notes those producers have faced many challenges in recent years.

“From supply chain backlogs at our ports, rising input costs, labor shortages, and drought; our producers have continued to supply the world with fresh, nutritious food despite these obstacles,” he says. Specialty crops are a cornerstone of California agriculture, and we need to ensure these producers are supported at the federal level.”

Ag emissions decline

A new EPA report concluded U.S. agriculture producers reduced emissions by 2% between 2021 and 2022. That’s more than any other economic sector. It’s also the lowest level of agriculture emissions since 2012.

Per the report, agriculture accounts for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

According to an analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation, livestock greenhouse gas emission declined by 2.1%. Crop cultivation emissions were down 1.7% while ag fuel combustion emissions dropped by 1.2%

AFBF President Zippy Duvall says the numbers demonstrate farmer’s and ranchers’ commitment to expanding American agriculture while also improving land, air and water to benefit farms and the climate.

“The drop in agricultural emissions highlights the success and importance of voluntary and market-based programs that support farmer efforts in sustainable agriculture practices,” Duvall says. “The latest numbers should also serve as inspiration to lawmakers who can build on this progress by passing a farm bill, which not only provides a safety net for farmers, but also helps them meet sustainability goals.”

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