The Biden administration's top ag official says $800 million in debt relief announced earlier this week will not only help distressed farmers facing foreclosure but provide “opportunities for more farmers to receive help.”

Speaking on this week's Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said even for producers who are already current on their existing USDA loans, the relief will have its benefits.

“In essence, what folks get out of this is we'll reduce the amount of foreclosure activity that's involved with USDA, in doing so will lower the subsidy rate, which will mean that we'll be able to utilize the resources that Congress provides for loans to help more farmers,” he said.

Vilsack says the amount of lending that takes place is based on the number of foreclosures and losses across USDA's roughly 115,000 borrowers. By minimizing the number of foreclosures, Vilsack argued USDA will able to lend out more loans to all farmers.

In addition to the $800 million in assistance, USDA also announced earlier this week a more “proactive” debt servicing approach, something Vilsack said will allow local Farm Service Agency officials to “work with the farmer, not against the farmer” and avoid bankruptcies or foreclosures.

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Vilsack also addressed climate-smart commodity investments at USDA, saying more investments should be expected by November on top of the $2.8 billion in projects unveiled in September.

Speaking during a Newsmakers panel discussion, Dave White, a former Natural Resources Conservation Service chief now with the 9b Group, said that kind of investment — and the resulting growth in conservation practices on the ground — will require more help for producers.

“With this kind of money coming in, it's going to be all hands on deck,” White said. “NRCS doesn't have enough technical people, they do a great job but they're just not enough of them.”

White was joined on the panel by Dana Brooks of the Pet Food Institute and Michael Dykes with the International Dairy Foods Association, who both addressed sustainability concerns facing their respective members on top of other issues critical to PFI and IDFA.

The full interview with Vilsack and complete panel discussion can be seen on Agri-Pulse Newsmakers.

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