Racial Equity Executive Order – Comment Opportunity Extended
New deadline August 14
On January 25, 2021, President Biden issued a racial equity executive order asking all departments and agencies of the Federal Government to develop and implement new policies and actions to redress historical racism and build full racial equity in the delivery of government services. The USDA has called for public input into how the Department and its agencies might most effectively carry out this order.
Recently, the deadline for public comment has officially been extended to August 14. For more information about this opportunity, including the list of specific questions that USDA is asking farmers of color and other stakeholders, and a link for submitting comments, see this new blog post by National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Budget Reconciliation Offers Historic Opportunity to Invest in Our Farmers and a Sustainable, Climate-resilient US Agriculture
Now that a bipartisan infrastructure deal has been reached to repair roads, bridges, and other basic infrastructure across the US, Members of Congress who would like to do far more for agriculture, community well-being, medical coverage, ending poverty, and addressing the climate crisis mitigation are moving ahead with a budget reconciliation process to fund these policy goals. On Tuesday July 13, the Senate Budget Committee outlined a budget package that includes approximately $1.5 trillion in traditional FY22 discretionary funding plus $2 trillion in budget reconciliation funding intended for investments in elements of the Biden American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan that are not included in the bipartisan infrastructure deal. If Senate and House Democrats are able to pass this budget package, it would represent the largest federal domestic investment since the 1930s.
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and some 450 other NGOs have advocated that $200 billion of this funding be devoted to agriculture, specifically to conservation, research and extension, agricultural processing infrastructure, and rural energy with a focus on addressing the climate crisis. Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow has expressed optimism that the Ag committee will be provided significantly increased funding for conservation programs. For more details on this development, see this Washington Post article.
Conservation Funding Opportunity
The USDA Conservation Reserve Program has opened signup periods for the CLEAR30 program (long term contracts for buffers protecting water quality) and the Grasslands Program, a working lands program that allows grazing managed to support conservation while the producer received CRP payments. See the NSAC blog on CRP for more information.
Other News from NSAC
Court Orders Seek to Block USDA Debt Relief for Farmers of Color. Earlier this year, Congress authorized the USDA to forgive the loans of about 16,000 Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other minority farmers and ranchers as part of the Department’s current efforts to dismantle historical racial inequities in delivery of USDA services and in the nation’s food and ag system. USDA initiated the debt relief process, but then was blocked in early June by a temporary restraining order issued by a Wisconsin court. In response, Rural Coalition published a letter, signed by VABF, NSAC, and many other organizations, opposing this action and urging that USDA be allowed to proceed. Since then, a Florida court has thrown another roadblock in the form of a preliminary injunction, based on concerns by economically-distressed White farmers who are excluded from this program. However, advocates for minority farmer debt relief point out that, 99% of the $9.7 billion in coronavirus relief funding that went to farmers in 2020 went to White farmers. Watch the NSAC blog for future developments.
Next Generation Crop Insurance. Agree Economic and Environmental Risk Coalition recent released a report with recommendations on how to better align USDA Risk Management (crop insurance) programs with conservation, so that farmers are rewarded, not penalized, for adopting conservation and soil health measures such as cover crops and diversified crop rotations.
USDA Announces $500 Million to Build Decentralized Meat and Poultry Processing Capacity. In the wake of the covid19 pandemic and its devastating effects on farmer and rancher access to meat processing facilities, the USDA has announced half a billion in new funding to help small and medium-scale meat and poultry processing businesses to improve access to this vital service for smaller scale livestock producers. In a recent blog, NSAC applauds this important initiative and provides this synopsis of its provisions and benefits.
In an in-depth history of seed industry consolidation, NSAC Policy Associate Billy Hackett traces how crop seeds, originally a vital part of the biological and intellectual commons on which traditional sustainable agriculture and food systems are based, was transformed over the past 120 years into one of the most privatized and diversity-depleted components of US agriculture. This is the second in a NSAC blog series exploring the impacts of corporate consolidation on our nation’s food and ag system.