Deputy Ag Secretary Jewel Bronaugh plans to leave her USDA position at the end of the month, but she thinks the department's staff and progress on a slate of equity recommendations will be left on good footing.

Speaking on this week's Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, Bronaugh addressed this week's farm income forecast, which estimates a 20.7% drop in net farm income this year after setting a record in 2022. Bronaugh pointed to a long list of USDA actions designed to help producers find new avenues for profit, including several government programs created during the Biden administration.

“For us at USDA, we're really trying to work to make American agriculture not just the most productive in the world, but also profitable,” Bronaugh said. “Not profitable for many, but for everyone.”

In those cases where producers might need to interact with a USDA employee to fill out an application or address questions on a particular program, Bronaugh noted USDA's field offices and Washington, D.C., headquarters “absolutely has the staff in place.” 

“We are trying to build up capacity as much as we can, but we have the staff available,” she said. “We have staff in (USDA field) offices who are working, we have not lost productivity in terms of being able to get the information out across the countryside.”

Bronaugh announced plans last month to will leave her position to spend more time with family.

Among her roles at USDA was co-chairing the Equity Commission formed last year. The group has been meeting and drafting a set of interim recommendations, which were approved last week. Those recommendations are now being drafted into a final report for Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Bronaugh is confident the necessary steps will be taken to address the matters raised by the group.

“I am positive that USDA is going to work to advance equity and build a USDA that is truly inclusive of underserved communities,” Bronaugh added.

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Upon her departure, she is confident that the “commission will go on” because it is a “major priority of the secretary and the USDA.” A new co-chair will be named before the end of the month.

Mary Kay Thatcher from Syngenta and Scott Gerlt with the American Soybean Association also join this week’s show to discuss key takeaways from the State of the Union address, timeline estimates for the next farm bill and USDA’s farm income forecast.

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