Swap crop insurance for area-based coverage — analysts

The government could save more than $2 billion a year if it replaced the public-private partnership of the crop insurance program with simpler and more tightly targeted disaster programs, said two agricultural economists. In an analysis for the American Enterprise Institute, Eric Belasco and Vincent Smith said a template for the less expensive program was the Pasture, Rangeland and Forage (PRF) insurance product offered by USDA.

USDA now obscures the names of some farm subsidy recipients

After decades of releasing the names of everyone who receives farm subsidy payments, the USDA has changed course, hiding the names of a portion of farm subsidy recipients. An advocacy group that publishes the data says that the decision to withhold recipient names obscures how billions of dollars of taxpayer money is spent.

Deputy secretary will be first Biden appointee to leave USDA

Jewel Bronaugh, the first Black person to serve as Agriculture deputy secretary, said on Thursday that she would leave the USDA at the end of February “so I can spend more time with my family.” Bronaugh, who oversees the USDA’s day-to-day operations, would be the first high-level Biden appointee to depart the agency.

Biden re-nominates Dean and Schlanger to key USDA posts

President Biden nominated Stacy Dean, a member of his administration since its first days, for the second time to serve at Agriculture undersecretary for nutrition, a post that has been vacant since the Obama era. The president also re-nominated Margo Schlanger, a long-time civil rights activist, for assistant secretary for civil rights at USDA.

Dairy farmers to get up to $200 million in USDA aid

The Biden administration expanded a pandemic relief program for dairy farmers on Monday to cover up to 9 million pounds of milk produced during the second half of 2020, up from the original 5 million pounds. The Agriculture Department also announced a new assistance program for organic dairy farmers, who face sharply higher feed expenses.

USDA allots $490 million to reduce wildfire risk

The USDA selected 11 additional landscapes in the West as the sites for expanded efforts to reduce the risk of wildfires, announced Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday. Some $490 million was earmarked for the landscapes, raising USDA expenditures on its Wildfire Crisis Strategy to $930 million across 45 million acres.

Stronger tools for enforcing U.S. organic standards

The USDA gained “a significant increase” in its power to prevent fraud and protect the integrity of the National Organic Program with the publication of the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule, said Agriculture Undersecretary Jenny Moffitt on Wednesday. The rule will take effect in 2024.

Congress encourages corporate sponsorship of USDA conservation programs

In the year-end Washington scramble to pass a government funding package, Congress snuck in a concerning new law that helps agribusiness corporations influence federal farm conservation policy. The SUSTAINS Act, first introduced by Republican leader of the House Agriculture Committee Glenn Thompson, allows corporations to give money to the Department of Agriculture to fund conservation programs. No paywall

USDA raises forecast of grocery inflation in 2023

Grocery prices will rise 3.5 percent in the new year, nearly double the long-term average but a dramatic slowdown from this year’s 11.5 percent, said the Agriculture Department Thursday in its Food Price Outlook.

Senate confirms Taylor as USDA trade chief

On a voice vote on Wednesday, senators approved the nomination of Alexis Taylor, Oregon state agriculture director for the past six years, as USDA undersecretary for trade. Taylor has said her priorities would be opening foreign markets to U.S. farm exports and the diligent enforcement of trade agreements.

Administration looks for ways to expand bioeconomy

Three months after President Biden signed an executive order to accelerate biotechnology innovation, the administration formally asked stakeholders and the public on Monday to identify gaps, ambiguities and inefficiencies in federal regulation of the sector.

Organic sales climb 13 percent in two years

California leads the nation with $3.55 billion in sales of organic agricultural products, one-third of the U.S. total, said the USDA on Thursday. The 2021 Organic Survey listed total organic sales of $11.2 billion, an increase of 13 percent in two years.

USDA updated basis for SNAP calculations without peer review, says GAO report

When the USDA increased SNAP benefits by 21 percent last year, it relied on a re-evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan that should have been subjected to peer review but was not, said a congressional agency on Wednesday. The Government Accountability Office also said key decisions in the re-evaluation were not adequately explained, analyzed, or documented.

Sen. Booker seeks substantial expansion of ‘food as medicine’ programs

Congress should "substantially scale up" programs like a produce prescription and nutrition incentive program at USDA and create a food box program to provide locally grown produce to Medicaid participants, said Sen. Cory Booker on Tuesday. "Food as medicine programs can be transformative," said the New Jersey Democrat during a Senate Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the issue.

Spending on climate-smart projects hard to track, says UCS

Meat, dairy, and livestock are likely to get a larger share of the funding than other commodities in the USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program, though it’s hard to track spending on the pilot projects, said a Union of Concerned Scientists blog on Thursday.

‘Precision nutrition’ to combat diet-related diseases, says Vilsack

The USDA said it would accelerate research into diet-related diseases on Monday as part of President Biden's "Cancer Moonshot" to reduce the cancer death rate by at least half over the next 25 years. "Precision nutrition," to fine-tune individual diets for health, will be one of the areas of study, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Farm income jumps 14 percent to record high

High commodity prices, due in part to warfare in Ukraine, will propel U.S. net farm income to a record $160.5 billion this year, despite a steep climb in expenses, said the Agriculture Department on Thursday. Farm income, a gauge of profitability, would be 14 percent higher than last year.

U.S. disaster payments are needed, say organic livestock producers

Abnormally high feed costs, partly the result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are ruining organic livestock producers and federal relief payments are vital to keep farmers in business, said organic trade groups and businesses. "A perfect storm of trade disruptions, international conflicts and acute drought conditions has created a situation no farmer could have planned for or foreseen," said the 13 groups in a letter to lawmakers released on Monday.

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