Policy quick hits: USDA funding to help more than 11K agriculture workers

Also: Lawmakers tackle ag research, enteric emissions and disaster relief for farm workers

June 17, 2024

4 Min Read
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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.

USDA allocates $50 million to assist farmworkers and employers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA is awarding $50 million in funding through the Farm Labor Stabilization and Protection Pilot Program announced last year. The funding will support 177 agriculture operations across 40 states and Puerto Rico. USDA officials say more than 11,000 workers will benefit from the program.

According to Vilsack, the awards will ensure small and mid-sized farmers can hire and retain the workers they need to be competitive in the market.

“Farmworkers make an incredibly important contribution to food and agriculture and ensure we have food on our tables every day,” Vilsack says. “Improving working conditions and quality of life for farmworkers, both U.S. based workers and those that come to our country to work, is one key step in building a stronger, more resilient food supply chain.”

Much of the funding will support efforts to improve working conditions and benefits for farm workers. The awards also include money worker training and education as well as efforts to ensure immigrant laborers are better protected from exploitation and unethical recruiting.

More than 60% of the employers receiving funding say they plan to use the H-2A visa program.

Crockett and Molinaro look to limit ag emissions

Reps. Jasmine Crockett, D- Texas, and Marc Molinaro, R- N.Y., introduced a bill to reduce agricultural carbon emissions. Their Enteric Methane Innovation Tools for Lower Emissions and Sustainable Stock Act would create methane product and practice testing capacity through the USDA Agricultural Research Service. It would also expand training programs and direct USDA to review conservation practice standards. The EMIT LESS Act also adds practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and includes financial incentives for farmers and ranchers to implement enteric methane reduction efforts.

Crockett says she is grateful to work with Molinaro to craft a bipartisan bill that has support from both producers and conservations. According to her, it’s proof that putting farmers and ranchers first does not mean putting the environment last.

“From an ice-cold glass of milk to freshly churned ice cream, farm-fresh cheese to a rare steak, American beef and dairy is the best on planet Earth – but for decades, that excellence has come at a high emission cost to our environment,” Crockett says. “With the introduction of our EMIT Less Act, we have the potential to expand the use of low-emission cattle feed and reduce the environmental cost of grazing without spiking costs for farmers and producers already under strain from overseas competition with poor environmental standards."

Lucas and Salinas push for ag research

Reps. Frank Lucas, R- Okla., and Andrea Salinas, D- Ore., recently introduced H.R. 8613, the NSF and USDA Interagency Research Act. They say the legislation would advance agricultural research.

H.R. 8613 authorizes the National Science Foundation and USDA to conduct cross-cutting and collaborative research and development. Supporters say merging NFS’s research infrastructure and technology tool with USDA’s ag science and farmer input will only benefit the U.S. food supply.

According to Lucas, the partnership exemplifies how federal agencies can work together to drive innovation and address challenges facing the ag sector.

“As a farmer and a rancher, I appreciate how science can help us optimize our limited resources to improve crop yields,” Lucas said. “The National Science Foundation will be pivotal in leveraging emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence and automation, to revolutionize farming practices and ensure a prosperous agricultural future.”

Dems want more emergency assistance for farm workers

Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing legislation that would provide emergency disaster assistance grants to farm workers affected by natural or climate disasters.

The Disaster Relief for Farm Workers Act was introduced by Sens. Michael Bennet, D- Colo., and Alex Padilla, D- Calif. Reps. Andrea Salinas, D- Ore., and Zoe Lofgren, D- Calif., introduced a companion bill in the House.

The bill makes grants available to organizations that provide emergency relief to farm workers. It includes language requiring USDA to promote the program before and during disaster events so potential recipients are aware of the assistance.

United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero says the bill will ensure farmers can put food on the table when they are unable to work due to circumstances beyond their control.

“Farm workers have long been excluded from federal disaster relief programs, even as they have been disproportionately impacted by extreme weather such as fires, flooding, and other natural disasters,” Romero says. “The same way the federal government provides support to farm owners who lose crops, the federal government should provide support to farm workers who lose work.”

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