Give and Take
Late last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was asking for comments on their latest announcement of a $3 billion investment in agriculture, school nutrition and animal health, along with a new climate partnership initiative and opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices.
In the introduction, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “American agriculture currently faces unprecedented challenges on multiple fronts.”
Well, he is correct on this statement, and a number of ag producers would place the current administration as one of those challenges. But, we need to hear the secretary out and hopefully find some opportunities in the initiative.
This $3 billion in investments will fund a number of programs, including preventing the spread of African swine fever, assisting producers facing drought and market disruptions and helping school nutrition programs. A total of $500 million will be spent to support drought recovery and to encourage the adoption of water-smart management practices. This assistance will target the challenges of the current drought and will also enable USDA’s Farm Production and Conservation agency to deliver much needed relief and design drought efforts in response to the magnitude of this crisis.
Up to $500 million will be earmarked to prevent the spread of African swine fever by developing a robust expansion and coordination of monitoring, surveillance, prevention, quarantine and eradication activities through USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. I hope there are also comments on strengthening foot and mouth disease prevention along the Mexican border.
In addition, the investment includes $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 biggest program is to spend up to $1.5 billion to provide assistance to help schools respond to supply chain disruptions. The initiative builds on the range of work USDA has been doing to identify ongoing issues school districts face during this difficult time and provide the resources, tools and flexibility they need to serve students healthy and nutritious meals.
The announcement also said USDA is committed to partnering with agriculture, forestry and rural communities to develop climate solutions that strengthen rural America.
Secretary Vilsack said, “Through extreme weather, drought and fire, our agriculture producers are on the frontlines of climate change. 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 and ranchers and forest landowners as leaders in addressing climate change.”
All of these initiatives raise some important questions. Will these programs really work? Will it affect climate change – whatever that is these days – or will it turn out to just be another expensive social program? We like what we see with cattle pricing and packer pricing transparency with the mandatory price reporting. What role will Congress play in this initiative and can the administration keep social programs from tagging on to anything new?
With the issues of estate planning, stepped-up land values and larger taxes, to name a few, agriculture is a little skeptical these days. Not knowing what the 30×30 plan is totally about, along with increasing the size of national monuments in Utah last week, has producers a little head-shy and hoping for opportunities.