Trade progress, food assistance among goals achieved.
The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program was delivered in two rounds totaling $30 billion in financial assistance to US agriculture producers. The CFAP was designed to help growers, ranchers and others absorb some of the revenue losses and marketing costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eligible commodities for CFAP included row crops, wool, livestock, specialty livestock, dairy, specialty crops, floriculture and nursery crops, aquaculture, broilers and eggs and tobacco.
The Farmers to Families Food Box Program announced in April used CFAP money to purchase nearly $4.5 billion worth of American food products, which were packaged into 125 million family-sized boxes and delivered through various programs to food banks, churches, schools, community organizations, tribal organizations, and international food aid organizations.
American producers large and small benefited from the program’s purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat products.
The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service granted more than 4,000 program flexibilities to ensure children and low-income individuals maintained access to nutritious food even as the pandemic disrupted typical distribution channels and safety nets.
Those flexibilities allowed the Department’s 15 nutrition assistance programs to adjust to local needs and maximize food access to eligible families. In October, the USDA announced free meals would continue for all children through the 2020-21 school year.
The USDA achieved several key trade deals in 2020. The most heralded among them was a January “Phase One” trade deal with China that ended a multi-year standoff that crimped exports of American products. The deal achieved several US goals for fair trade, including 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 agreement also excised several non-tariff barriers to US agriculture, and saw China commit to substantial purchases of US goods and services. US agricultural commodity prices rallied as several sectors saw China buy US supplies at a record pace.
The United States joined with its North American neighbors in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, signed by President Donald Trump in January. The agreement entered into force in July.
The deal expanded US producers’ market access to the first and second largest export markets for US food and agricultural products. The deal maintains a zero tariff rate on products that had no tariff under the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the USMCA replaced. The deal went a step further than NAFTA, creating new market access opportunities for US exports to Canada of dairy, poultry, and eggs. The United States then provided new access to Canada for some dairy, peanut, and a limited amount of sugar and sugar-containing products.
A new USDA call center under the auspices of the Farm Service Agency took 25,000 calls in 2020 beginning with its inception in May. Producers phoned the center and were led through their applications to the coronavirus food assistance program and the Seafood Trade Relief Program.
Meanwhile, the Farm Production and Conservation Business Center developed and deployed over a fortnight an online tool to guide producers through commodity eligibility and applications. The Conservation Concerns Tool was built to teach growers and ranchers about conservation issues that might impact productivity or natural resources on farm, ranch, or forest land and allow them to compile concerns for discussion with USDA conservation specialists. Farmers can them manage their conservation efforts via a farmers.gov account.
Access to high-speed internet helps rural areas of the United States thrive or return to prosperity via access to economic development, innovation and technology, workforce management and improved quality of life. Family farms and other agriculture operations in particular benefit from shared knowledge in biotechnology, science, conservation and sustainable growing, among many others.
To that end, the USDA in 2020 invested $1.3 billion to support rural broadband expansion through the ReConnect Pilot Program, including $85 million through the CARES Act. The investments are connecting approximately 280,000 households, 19,978 farms and 10,053 businesses to high-speed internet.
Perdue in February announced the Agriculture Innovation Agenda, an initiative designed to stimulate innovation so that American agriculture increase US agricultural production by 40% while cutting the environmental footprint of US agriculture in half by 2050.
Four main components comprise the agenda: developing a research strategy; aligning the work of USDA’s 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.
One effort to meet the agenda’s goal found the USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration teaming to deliver on the US national goal of reducing food loss and waste by 50% by 2030 through consumer education, food date labeling, measurement, and collaboration with private industry.
The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service had a busy year as they identified a promising vaccine against the circulating strain of African swine fever affecting the pork industry in Europe and Asia. Scientists also produced the entire genome of the Asian giant hornet, a new invasive insect threatening honey bee colonies and designed the scent lure for traps that led to the detection and destruction of the first nest of these invasive insects in the United States. After emergency response research, AMS informed livestock and poultry producers that those species are not a source of infection for COVID-19 and insects are not a risk factor for the transmission of the virus to humans.
Beyond those most newsworthy of accomplishments, the USDA served Americans in other ways through its 4,500 locations across the nation. A few:
Food Safety and Inspection Service modernized policies, operations, and inspection systems. Included was a regulatory change that modernizes swine slaughter inspection. The FSIS also finalized the Egg Products Inspection Regulations rule, the first time egg product inspection methods had been modernized since the Eggs Product Inspection Act of 1970.
In addition to the landmark USMCA and phase one deal with China, the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service resolved longstanding trade issues with Kenya and made substantial progress toward a free trade agreement there. The pandemic spurred development of new marketing channels, such as virtual trade shows, that allow US exporters to safely connect with potential overseas customers.
The USDA’s Forest Service sold more timber than it has in the past 22 years, providing a sustainable flow of forest products, supporting rural economies and reducing wildfire risk on over 2.2 million acres through timber harvest, removing hazardous fuels like dead and downed trees, and combating disease, insect and invasive species infestations. The service also opened hundreds of thousands of acres of national forests to visitor access in 2020.