In a statement Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded the accomplishments made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the past year. The USDA has been working hard to expand opportunities for farmers and rural Americans.
“While this was a tough year with the coronavirus, historic wildfires, and weather damage, USDA met these challenges with a multitude of programs and services to support Americans and keep our agricultural sector running and responsive to the country’s needs,” said Secretary Perdue. “We salute our mission areas and agencies for keeping our customers front and center, serving the American people, farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers.”
Farmers to Families Food Box Program
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) purchased $8.6 billion in food for delivery to food banks, churches, schools, community organizations, tribal organizations, and international food aid organizations through various programs during Fiscal Year 2020. Using Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) funding, USDA announced the Farmers to Families Food Box Program on April 17, 2020. Through this program, USDA has been partnering with national, regional and local distributors, whose workforces have been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses, to purchase up to $4.5 billion in fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat products from American producers of all sizes. Distributors then package these products into family-sized boxes and transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits serving Americans in need. The Food Box Program has provided more than 125 million food boxes to Americans in need and will purchase nearly $4.5 billion worth of food by the end of the year.
Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) Funding
Working with the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE), the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS); FSA and the Farm Production and Conservation Business Center quickly built and delivered two rounds of the CFAP, which provides financial assistance to help producers absorb some of the revenue losses and increased marketing costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, CFAP 1 and CFAP 2 made available $30 billion in relief. Additionally, USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service worked together to adopt new processes for electronic signatures to ensure producer and field staff could use electronic tools safely and securely.
Ensuring Access to Food
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) took unprecedented steps to ensure that children and low-income individuals had access to nutritious food in response to the pandemic as well. FNS issued more than 4,000 program flexibilities to adjust to local needs and maximize access for all eligible families across each of USDA’s 15 nutrition assistance programs. In October, USDA announced it would allow free meals to continue to be available to all children throughout the entire 2020-2021 school year. This unprecedented move is part of USDA’s unwavering commitment to ensuring all children across America have access to nutritious food as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In January, the United States and China reached a historic agreement on a Phase One trade deal that set forth structural and technical reforms to China’s trade practices in the areas of intellectual property, technology transfer, agriculture, financial services, and currency and foreign exchange. The Phase One agreement addressed many non-tariff barriers to U.S. agriculture; it also included a commitment by China to make substantial purchases of U.S. goods and services. This agreement led to a record pace of Chinese purchases in many sectors, boosting agricultural commodity prices. In July, The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) entered into force, replacing the decades-old NAFTA, expanding market access for U.S. farmers to sell their products to our closest neighbors. In ongoing engagements with the European Union, and as the U.S. pursues a post-Brexit free trade agreement with the United Kingdom, Secretary Perdue and USDA called for transparent, science-based trade policies that foster innovation and ensure that agriculture remains economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.
USDA’s Farm Service Agency stood up a call center to help producers with questions and assistance with program applications for CFAP and Seafood Trade Relief Program. The call center has received over 25,000 calls, including over 800 in Spanish, since its inception in May. In just two weeks, the Farm Production and Conservation Business Center developed and deployed a new tool that walks producers through eligible commodities for CFAP and outlines their next steps. Another new decision tool, the Conservation Concerns Tool, gives landowners conservation solutions to fit their business needs. In addition to searching for information on farmers.gov, producers can also log into farmers.gov to manage their conservation business online.
USDA invested $1.3 billion to support rural broadband expansion through the ReConnect Pilot Program. Included in this total is $85 million provided through the CARES Act. In total, these investments are connecting approximately 280,000 households, 19,978 farms and 10,053 businesses to high-speed internet.
Innovation and Sustainability Agenda
Through the Agriculture Innovation Agenda, USDA committed to stimulate innovation so that American agriculture can achieve the goal of increasing U.S. agricultural production by 40 percent while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050. The initiative is comprised of four main components; developing a research strategy; aligning the work of our customer-facing agencies and integrating innovative technologies and practices into USDA programs; setting benchmarks to track progress toward meeting future food, fiber, fuel, feed and climate demands. As one example of Agriculture Innovation Agenda efforts, USDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are working together to deliver on the U.S. national goal of reducing food loss and waste by 50 percent by 2030 through consumer education, food date labeling, measurement, and collaboration with private industry.