President Joe Biden proposed a fiscal 2024 budget Thursday that would make permanent a lapsed USDA subsidy program for cover crops while also increasing the number of kids who get free school meals.

The budget request also would boost spending on agricultural research to more than $4 billion in FY24, which would be a $299 million increase above FY23.  

The overall USDA budget proposal includes $7 billion in climate-related funding, a $2 billion increase over the current year.

The budget also proposes $400 million in new funding for rural broadband through USDA’s ReConnect grant and loan program. The proposal would supplement funding provided separately through the 2021 infrastructure law.

In 2021 and 2022, the Biden administration paid $5 an acre in crop insurance premium subsidies to farmers who planted cover crops. The money came from COVID-19 assistance funds, and the payments have not been renewed this year.

The budget estimates that making the payments permanent, starting in FY24, would cost $950 million over 10 years. The temporary USDA program was modeled on state premium subsidies offered in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.

“Cover cropping systems benefit the environment and improve climate resilience for agriculture by reducing soil erosion and compaction, increasing soil organic matter, and limiting nutrient runoff,” according to USDA's FY24 budget summary.

The proposal assumed the department would make payments on 15 million acres in FY24 and that the acreage would increase by 5% each subsequent year. 

Justifying the proposed increase in ag research funding, a White House budget summary notes that China “has become the “largest funder of agricultural research and development (R&D) in the world, surpassing the United States and the European Union.”

The budget would provide nearly $2 billion to USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, including increases of $88.5 million for climate science and $83 million for clean energy. ARS was funded at $1.9 billion for FY23.

Another $1.9 billion in new funding is requested for the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to fund research at universities and other institutions. NIFA received $1.72 billion for FY23.

The research funding totals don’t include some funding provided through the 2018 farm bill. Most USDA research funding is allocated through annual appropriations bills. 

To increase access to free school lunches, the budget calls for expanding use of a “community eligibility provision” that allows schools in high-poverty areas to offer meals at no cost to students even if some of the kids don’t meet income eligibility limits. The proposal would benefit nine million children at a cost of $14.6 billion over 10 years.

The proposed budget also includes several recommended cost-neutral modifications to USDA loan programs. The limit for microloans would be increased from $50,000 to $100,000 under the plan. 

Don’t miss a beat! It’s easy to sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! For the latest on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and around the country in agriculture, just click here.

The administration also is proposing to eliminate the limit on the years that a borrower can apply for direct operating direct farm ownership loans. The farming experience required for direct farm ownership loans would be reduced from three years to one years, with a waiver of the experience requirement for farmers with an established mentor, under the proposal.

The 2024 budget year starts Oct. 1.

The budget includes proposed changes to mandatory spending levels that are dictated by laws such as the farm bill as well as recommended discretionary funding levels that are determined by annual appropriations bills. Discretionary funding for USDA would rise 14.3% under the White House budget to $30.1 billion in FY24. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the White House budget "provides USDA with the tools needed to serve all Americans by providing effective, innovative science-based public policy leadership at home and around the world. It contains critical investments that will help rural communities provide the fuel, food, and fiber upon which our nation depends and will drive solutions that will lead to more market opportunities for producers,”

House Agriculture Committee member Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., said the requested increase for ag research would mark "an important step towards undoing years of underinvestment – as public funding for agriculture research has declined by one-third since 2002."

For more news, go to