On Feb. 26, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 response package with more than $4 billion for the food supply chain, agriculture and food aid. The measure is under consideration in the Senate, where the outcome is uncertain.
Tom Vilsack was confirmed and sworn in as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). He returns to the position after serving for eight years under President Obama. Other key USDA nominees and appointees include:
- Jewel Bronaugh, Deputy Secretary – She has served since 2018 as commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
- Katherine Ferguson, Chief of Staff, Office of the Secretary – She served in the Obama Administration as chief of staff for the White House Domestic Policy Council and USDA Rural Development.
- Robert Bonnie, Deputy Chief of Staff – He was an executive in residence at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University.
- Kumar Chandran, Senior Advisor on Nutrition – He was policy director of FoodCorps and led its Washington, D.C. office.
- Gloria Montaño Greene, Deputy Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation – She was the Arizona Farm Service Agency (FSA) executive director from 2014-2017 and previously served as chief of staff to Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz).
- Zach Ducheneaux, FSA Administrator – He was executive director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, the largest native American organization of its kind in the United States. He and his brothers operate a family ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.
The U.S. Canola Association (USCA) responded to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) call for comments on Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) waiver requests for 2019 and 2020. The agency denied unwarranted waiver requests in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2017 and 2018. Similar requests for 2019 and 2020 do not meet the required criteria and should again be denied by the agency, notes the USCA in a Feb. 18 letter to EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Anne Austin.
The USDA announced the Quality Loss Adjustment Program, which provides long-delayed WHIP+ quality loss provisions due to natural disasters in 2018 and 2019. The application period ends March 5 and producers have until March 19 to submit required documentation. Eligible are producers in counties that received a presidential or secretarial disaster designation from a qualifying disaster event and at least 5 percent quality loss. There is a 70 percent payment factor for all applicants, which is compounded by 50 percent for those without specified documentation.
Farmers have until March 15 to sign-up for the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs for the 2021 crop year. The ARC provides income support payments on historical base acres when actual crop revenue declines below a guaranteed level. The PLC provides payments on historical base acres when the effective price for a covered commodity falls below its reference price. Covered commodities include canola, corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and a range of minority crops.
The USCA joined other agricultural groups in several letters to Congress and President Biden expressing its support of priority issues, including opposition to cuts in crop insurance, support for increased investment in agricultural research and development, funding for international food aid and improvement of transportation and rural infrastructure.