On July 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the authorization of emergency procedures to help producers impacted by extreme drought conditions. The USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) is working with crop insurance companies to streamline and accelerate the adjustment of losses and issuance of indemnity payments to crop insurance policyholders in impacted areas. These new crop insurance flexibilities are part of USDA’s broader response to help producers impacted by drought in the west, northern Great Plains, Caribbean and other areas. Emergency procedures allow insurance companies to accept delayed notices of loss in certain situations, streamline paperwork, and reduce the number of required representative samples when damage is consistent. Producers should contact their crop insurance agent as soon as they notice damage. More information is in the USCA Blog.
The House Agriculture Committee voted on July 27 to advance a Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) Reauthorization Act (H.R. 267) to expand and extend WHIP+ for two years and authorize appropriations of $8.5 billion for 2020 and 2021. WHIP+ is a temporary program that provided assistance to producers for losses in 2018 and 2019. Its funding is subject to appropriations, which could come later this year. The Senate Agriculture Committee has signaled its support for extending and expanding WHIP+ as well. The House bill also authorizes the WHIP+ Milk Loss Program and On-Farm Storage Loss Program. It will maintain the causes of loss for 2018-19, including high winds, excessive heat, freeze and drought. Administrative improvements in the bill include:
- Continued requirement that participants purchase crop insurance coverage of at least 60%, or NAP where insurance isn’t available, for two years after receiving assistance
- Directs USDA to streamline the application process and reduce the workload of county offices
- Use of net indemnities would account for the producer-paid premium in the calculation
- Unharvested acres are treated in the same manner as under NAP.
- Mechanism for payments to producers through sugar processors and dairy co-operatives
The FY 2022 agriculture appropriations bill was passed by the full House of Representatives as part of a package with several other appropriations bills. The House bill will now wait for action by the Senate and includes funding for the Supplemental & Alternative Crops (SAC) program, which funds the National Canola Research Program. However, the House bill only provides $663,000 for SAC, a decrease from the $1 million provided in FY2021. The U.S. Canola Association is seeking an increase in SAC funding for FY22 and will continue to push for the higher funding level in the Senate version. Overall, the House proposal would increase annual discretionary funding for farm, food and rural programs by more than 10 percent. The measure totals $26.55 billion, an increase of $2.85 billion compared to current levels.
The USDA’s Economic Research Service issued estimates showing that farmers received $57.7 billion in total federal aid last year, more than 60 percent of which came from Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and other COVID-19 relief programs. Altogether, the COVID-related aid amounted to $35.2 billion. Farm bill commodity and conservation programs accounted for $13.1 billion in payments and the Market Facilitation Program paid out $3.7 billion in trade assistance in 2020. Farmers’ net indemnities from crop insurance totaled $5.7 billion. The USDA’s 2021 farm income forecast expects direct government payments to drop by about 45 percent this year, bringing overall net farm income down about 8 percent. That would still be above average across the past 20 years, adjusted for inflation.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is soliciting feedback on a proposal to add three types of genetic modifications to plants that would exempt from USDA’s biotech regulations. These modifications are similar and functionally equivalent to modifications that could otherwise be achieved through conventional breeding. APHIS is accepting public comments on the proposal through Aug. 18.
Six groups have filed suit against the regulations implemented last year to streamline the regulation of gene-edited crop traits and allow companies to self-determine whether their products need USDA approval. The suit was filed by the Center for Food Safety, National Family Farm Coalition, Pesticide Action Network North America, Center for Environmental Health, Friends of the Earth and Center for Biological Diversity. The groups contend that the regulatory exemptions violate the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Plant Protection Act, abdicating the USDA’s statutory duty to provide meaningful oversight of biotech organisms.