USDA launches Forest Corps alongside Biden’s Climate Corps

The White House announced the creation Wednesday of the American Climate Corps to train 20,000 young adults for work in clean energy, conservation, and climate resilience. At the same time, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Forest Corps, operating through the U.S. Forest Service, would be the first major interagency partnership with the Climate Corps.

Tap USDA funds to boost food aid and exports, say senators

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack should tap a USDA reserve fund to expand international food aid and export promotion programs, said the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee in a letter released on Wednesday.

Farm income booms for third year in a row

The U.S. agricultural sector is headed for the third year in a row of exceptionally high net farm income, albeit a step down from the record set last year. Since 2021, net farm income — a broad measure of profits — has run at least $39 billion a year above the 10-year average.

Project to connect small forest owners and carbon markets

The U.S. Forest Service will provide up to $150 million for a project to link small-acreage and underserved forest owners with the emerging climate market, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday. The USDA said forest owners with small amounts of land were often fenced out of carbon markets by contracts aimed at large tracts or that posed high start-up costs.

U.S. ag exports slow down, but imports don’t

At the three-quarter point in the trade year, U.S. food and agricultural imports were nearly $7 billion larger than farm exports, $148.2 billion vs. $141.4 billion, according to USDA data released on Thursday. The agency has forecast a $17 billion food trade deficit for the 12 months ending on Sept. 30, due to a drop-off in corn, wheat, beef, and poultry exports, while demand remained strong for imports that include wine, coffee, beer, fresh fruits and vegetables, and distilled spirits.

More states are incentivizing schools to buy local food

A growing number of states are reimbursing schools for buying locally grown and produced foods in an effort to improve children's diets while supporting local farmers. Before the pandemic, eight states and the District of Columbia had programs that subsidize local food purchases at schools — seven more states have added these programs since 2020.

Grants will help small and rural schools improve meals

Some 264 school districts across the nation will receive up to $150,000 apiece for projects to improve the nutritional quality of the meals served in small and rural schools, said the USDA on Monday. Nearly $30 million will be distributed through the Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative, said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small.

South would be hit hardest by USDA crop subsidy update

Growers in the U.S. South could lose $1.4 billion in farm subsidies over the next decade if Congress decides to align payments more closely with the crops they produce, said an analysis by Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee. “A mandatory base acre update would create winners and losers ... and most certainly complicate efforts to pass a new farm bill,” said the analysis.

Participation in summer meal programs takes a nosedive

An average of almost 3 million children ate lunch daily through USDA's summer nutrition programs last year, a huge decline from 5.4 million a day during summer 2021 with the effective end of pandemic-era operating flexibilities, said the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) on Monday. While lunch participation plunged by 44 percent, breakfast participation plunged by 62 percent, to an average of 1.8 million a day.

USDA and states to tackle anticompetitive practices

A new partnership between the USDA and 31 states will “help lower food costs for American families while also giving farmers and ranchers more and better options,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the White House on Wednesday.

Torres Small vows to help farms of all sizes succeed

Minutes after taking the oath of office on Monday, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small said the USDA should help farms of all sizes and types of production be successful. "That's why I'm so excited to have this job," said Torres Small, who received Senate confirmation last week for the No. 2 position.

Vilsack is confident agriculture will be first to net-zero emissions

Climate change is a worldwide challenge, but it also offers the opportunity to boost farm income for those who adopt climate-smart practices, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at a food and agriculture conference on Wednesday. “I can guarantee you farmers will embrace this,” he said. “I am truly confident. I think agriculture gets to net-zero before most of the major industries.”

USDA seeks precision in measuring greenhouse gases and carbon reductions

As part of President Biden's goal to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade, the USDA will spend $300 million to more accurately measure and verify GHG emissions and carbon sequestration by climate-smart agriculture, said the White House on Wednesday. Climate adviser Ali Zaidi said the project would help "the people on the front lines of the climate crisis to be part of the solution."

Senate confirms Torres Small as Agriculture deputy secretary

By more than a 10-to-1 margin, senators confirmed Xochitl Torres Small, the granddaughter of migrant farmworkers who became a lawyer and a U.S. lawmaker, as Agriculture deputy secretary on Tuesday. She is the first Hispanic to hold the No. 2 post at USDA, overseeing day-to-day operations at one of the largest federal departments.

Strong Senate support for Torres Small as Agriculture deputy secretary

President Biden's nominee for the No. 2 post at the Agriculture Department, Xochitl Torres Small, easily cleared a procedural hurdle on a 79-8 Senate roll call on Monday, opening the door to a confirmation vote expected on Tuesday. The granddaughter of migrant farmworkers, Torres Small would be the first Hispanic deputy secretary of the USDA.

Report: Retooling USDA programs for climate mitigation is ‘politically fraught’

The USDA could use its biggest land stewardship programs — the Conservation Reserve, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Conservation Stewardship Program — to combat climate change, wrote University of Maryland professor Erik Lichtenberg in a think tank report. But to make the programs as effective as possible, he said, Congress would have to reorient them, a risky move that could cut into their support.

USDA awards $115 million to boost independent meat processors

On Thursday, as part of an administration initiative to increase independent meat processing capacity, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $38 million in grants to processors and $77 million to intermediary lenders to finance the start-up, expansion, or operation of independent processing facilities. The result will be a stronger food supply chain and more competition in the meat processing sector, said the administration.

Vilsack taps USDA fund as House GOP tries to block his access

Declaring it was "an appropriate utilization" of resources, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack allotted nearly $2.7 billion in USDA funds for school meals, food banks, and domestic fertilizer production. House Republicans are trying to block Vilsack's access to the $30 billion account that was the source of the funding.

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