On Sept. 29, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a comprehensive set of investments to address challenges facing America’s agricultural producers. These include assistance to address challenges and costs associated with drought, animal health, market disruptions for agricultural commodities, and school food-supply chain issues. Vilsack also outlined and requested public comments on a new climate partnership initiative designed to create new revenue streams for producers via market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices.

“American agriculture currently faces unprecedented challenges on multiple fronts,” said Vilsack. “The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every stage of our food supply chain, from commodity production through processing and delivery. Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners increasingly experience the impacts of climate change as severe storms, floods, drought and wildfire events damage their operations and impact their livelihoods.

“We know these challenges will continue into 2022, and others may emerge,” he continued. “Through this comprehensive set of investments, USDA will take action to prevent the spread of African Swine Fever, assist producers grappling with drought and market disruptions and help school nutrition professionals obtain nutritious food for students. Tackling these challenges head-on better positions USDA to respond in the future as new challenges emerge.”

USDA said it is preparing $3 billion in investments that will support drought resilience and response, animal disease prevention, market disruption relief and purchase of food for school nutrition programs. The support will be made available via the Commodity Credit Corporation. Specifically, funds will be used to provide:

  • $500 million to support drought recovery and encourage the adoption of water-smart management practices. From rising temperatures and heat waves, to early snow melt 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. 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.
  • Up to $500 million to prevent the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) via robust expansion and coordination of monitoring, surveillance, prevention, quarantine and eradication activities through USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. ASF outbreaks have proven devastating in other parts of the world due to lost production and trade.
  • $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, as part of Vilsack’s work as co-chair of the Biden-Harris administration’s Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force.
  • Up to $1.5 billion to provide assistance to help schools respond to supply chain disruptions. Throughout the pandemic, school food professionals have met extraordinary challenges to ensure every child can get the food they need to learn, grow and thrive. But circumstances in local communities remain unpredictable, and supply chains for food and labor have been stressed and at times disrupted. 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 working hard to make sure students have reliable access to healthy meals.

This set of targeted investments will address unmet needs in our food system, USDA said, and complement a suite of programs USDA is implementing in response to COVID-19, including the Department’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative and the longer-term Build Back Better initiative designed to address supply chain vulnerabilities and transform our food system based on lessons from COVID-19.

USDA also said it is committed to partnering with agriculture, forestry and rural communities to develop climate solutions that strengthen rural America. Vilsack announced a new 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 pilots could rely on the Commodity Credit Corporation’s specific power to aid in expansion or development of new and additional markets. The department published a Request for Information seeking public comment and input on design of new initiative.

Comments may be provided on or before 11:59 p.m. EST on Nov. 1, 2021, via the Federal Register, Docket ID: USDA-2021-0010. Feedback will be used to inform design of the new Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative. USDA said it 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,
  • Inclusion of historically underserved communities.

Comments are encouraged from private corporations, farmers and farmer organizations, commodity groups, livestock producer groups, environmental organizations, agriculture businesses and technology companies, environmental market organizations, renewable energy organizations, Tribal organizations and governments, organizations representing historically underrepresented producers, and organizations representing historically underrepresented communities.

USDA said it is committed to equity in program delivery and explicitly seeks input on how to best serve historically underrepresented producers and communities. This aligns with the Justice40 initiative, an effort to ensure that federal agencies work with states and local communities to deliver at least 40% of the overall benefits from Federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities.

Insights gained through this process will inform development of a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) soliciting Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative project proposals that encourage the adoption of climate-smart practices and promote markets for climate-smart commodities. USDA said it plans to announce the NOFA this fall, with project proposals accepted early next year.

The U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), Arlington, Va., said it commends the Biden administration and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for taking key steps to help U.S. dairy suppliers meet rising global demand for dairy while charting a long-term, climate-smart course that advances the robust environmental commitments U.S. dairy producers and processors have made.

“USDA’s announcement on market disruption support speaks directly to the severe port congestion and export shipping delays that have been challenging U.S. dairy exporters for the past year,” said Krysta Harden, USDEC president and CEO. “And its decision to finance the deployment of climate-smart farming practices to aid the marketing of sustainable products, including dairy, will help deliver even greater U.S. leadership in sustainably feeding the planet in the years ahead.

“We expect both measures will help improve U.S. competitiveness by facilitating trade and helping our industry fulfill the ever-increasing demand for sustainably produced milk and dairy products,” she added.

Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), also commented on USDA’s announcement.

“As the fiscal year comes to a close, IDFA is pleased to see Secretary Vilsack use available funding to respond to ongoing supply chain bottlenecks and to make sure children have access to healthy, nutritious foods through school meals programs,” he said. “IDFA encourages the department to continue to look to nutritious dairy products — a source of 13 essential nutrients — as an immediate next step in food purchases. Dairy producers and dairy foods makers are ready to respond with wholesome, nutritious products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy foods that have a long track record as part of a healthy school meal menu.

“Further, IDFA is hopeful that some of the $1.5 billion announced today will go to help schools make sense of the myriad nutrition waivers now in effect,” Dykes said. “Although all states have opted into the meal flexibilities offered by USDA, many schools and school districts have not because they are unaware or the barriers to entry are too high or too burdensome. Flexibilities should not create barriers to access. As USDA designs how to use these resources in the weeks ahead, IDFA requests the department lessen the burden on schools. When states opt into nutrition waivers, schools should automatically qualify so that food makers and processors can respond with healthy, nutritious products.

“The current flexibilities in place seem to allow schools to serve a wider variety of milk and dairy options, including low-fat flavored milk,” he added. “However, many schools are unaware or unable to meet the administrative requirements of USDA, leaving milk processors on the sidelines holding product, further contributing to supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. IDFA encourages USDA to work with states and schools directly to ensure the flexibilities in place result in getting healthy foods, including dairy foods and beverages, to students.”