Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA is walking a fine line as it navigates competing pressures to produce more food, keep growers profitable and address climate change.
“How do you make sure that American agriculture responds as it traditionally and historically always has responded to the crisis of the day” while at the same time maintaining profitable pricing levels and addressing climate, he said to a group of broadcasters in town for the National Association of Farm Broadcasting’s annual Washington Watch.
“That's a pretty tricky balancing act now,” he said. “I think we're navigating it.”
On the FAS front: Vilsack also defended the Foreign Agricultural Service and USDA’s record on trade, saying it is somewhat of a “disservice” to suggest that important work is not getting done because there is no foreign ag undersecretary.
“We have a record level of exports,” Vilsack said. “I have met with more ag ministers and counselors and secretaries in the first 13 or 14 months I've been on this job than I probably did in the first four years of the Obama administration.”
Vilsack optimistic on climate-smart, meat processing grant programs
The secretary also said he expects USDA will receive a healthy group of applications for its $1 billion climate-smart grants program when the deadline closes May 6, and said its $150 million program to expand meat processing capacity has already received 24 applications before its May 11 deadline.
“May is going to be a busy month,” he said.
He mentioned in particular an application from the Farmers for Soil Health initiative, which includes the United Soybean Board, National Pork Board and National Corn Growers Association, which is seeking to establish 30 million acres of cover crops on corn and soybean acres by 2030.
Three states dominate CRP signup
With commodity prices soaring this year, USDA is accepting most of the acres that landowners offered for the Conservation Reserve Program in the latest general signup.
USDA accepted 2.07 million of the 2.29 million acres that were offered by applicants. Texas, Colorado and Kansas accounted for half the approved acreage. Texas alone had 449,644 acres.
USDA accepted land that had an environmental benefits index score of at least 184 of a maximum 545 points. The average annual payment rate for the accepted acreage is $51.51 per acre.
“While we’d like to see higher enrollment, we understand the voluntary nature of the program ensures it’s ultimately responsive to the needs of the agricultural community,” said Adam Putnam, CEO of Ducks Unlimited.
Keep in mind: Contracts are expiring this fall on 4 million CRP acres, including 3.4 million enrolled under the general signup.
Survey: Farmers struggling to get inputs
It’s not just the high prices for inputs that are a problem for farmers. Many producers are even having trouble getting the chemicals and other products they need, according to the latest Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer.
Some 34% of producers surveyed in April say they had some difficulty in getting inputs they needed this year. Some 30% struggled to get needed herbicides, and fertilizer was a problem for 26%. For 27%, getting machinery parts has been a challenge.
It’s worth noting that 11% of the farmers surveyed have already gotten notice that a supplier can’t deliver at least one crop input that was purchased for use this year.
Ukraine seen facing deficit for grain storage
Ukrainian farmers are managing to export some of their grain via rail, roads and rivers, but Black Sea ports remain closed and the country’s farmers are expected to run out of storage this year, according to an analysis by the consulting firm APK-Inform.
There are about 21.3 million metric tons of carryover stocks in storage now – not counting war-damaged storage facilities – and farmers are going to have to also put much of the forecasted 56 million tons of spring grain and oilseeds in storage.
While Ukraine has the capacity to store 75 million tons, intense fighting with the invading Russian troops has cut off access to much of it, says APK-Inform. As of now, farmers have access to storage for about 61 million tons, creating a storage deficit of about 16 million tons.
OSRA sponsor presses House for passage
A Senate sponsor of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act yesterday pressed for the House to pass the measure immediately at a hearing with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she “just want[s] to get this done,” warning that the more time spent deliberating leaves the door open for delays and adding that “anything can happen in this town.”
Buttigieg acknowledged U.S. supply chains are in an “urgent moment,” and said the sooner OSRA is enacted, the sooner DOT can begin work with the Federal Maritime Commission on “making good” on the provisions in the bill.
Klobuchar acknowledged “talk” of putting it into another bill – namely the China COMPETES bill awaiting the start of a conference – but said relying on such a large conference would allow “months to go by,” blunting the message of the legislation to ocean carriers.
Klobuchar added she “really thinks it’s time to move and work this through with the House.”
Take note: House sponsor of OSRA Dusty Johnson told Agri-Pulse last week it’s more likely OSRA passes as part of the COMPETES package, adding that House leaders want to negotiate the provisions dropped in the Senate version.
For more on our interview with Johnson and other industry leaders, watch Newsmakers here.
Correction: We wrote about former USDA Chief Economist Rob Johansson, now with the American Sugar Alliance, in yesterday’s Daybreak. However, we unfortunately called him “Ron” in our cutline. We regret the error.
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