President Joe Biden is releasing his fiscal 2022 budget proposal today, less than six months before the new budget year starts. His budget will only cover discretionary spending – those programs that are subject to annual appropriations, which includes research and rural development programs at USDA.

The release of the budget will allow congressional appropriators to move ahead with writing their FY22 spending bills.

Watch today for the latest on the budget.
Groups seek big increase for NRCS technical assistance

A broad coalition that includes environmental groups, water regulators and farmers is urging Congress to boost funding significantly for technical assistance at the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

In addition to full funding for mandatory farm bill conservation programs, the coalition led by the National Association of Conservation Districts said NRCS should get at least $1.2 billion in FY22 discretionary funding for conservation operations, an increase of $300 million. That total would include $1.1 billion for conservation technical assistance.

“On-the-ground capacity at NRCS continues to be a limiting factor for conservation implementation,” the groups said in a letter to the House and Senate Ag Appropriations subcommittees.

Keep in mind: Without increased staffing, it’s going to be challenging for NRCS to distribute large increases in conservation program spending being proposed to speed the adoption of climate-friendly farming practices.

Durbin lauds Food Box program

The Farmers to Families Food Box program has picked up an endorsement from a key senator: Democratic Whip Dick Durbin. “I think the Trump Administration got it right,” he said Thursday during a webinar organized by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs

The Illinois Democrat, who sits on both the Agriculture and Appropriations committees, said the program has been largely effective in aiding hungry people as well as farmers and food distributors. But he acknowledged the need to better involve minority and women farmers and target the areas of greatest need.

Kate Maehr, head of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said the boxes need to be smaller and recipients should have the option to choose their own foods. “Do it in a way that honors people’s dignity, which also, by the way, can prevent food waste,” she said.

By the way: Produce and dairy groups, among others, are emphasizing the benefits of their products as USDA considers whether to continue the program in some form. USDA will have spent nearly $5 billion on the program by the end of April.