Top 3 Stories in Ag Policy from July

July was a news-packed month for U.S. agriculture as the Administration responded to the pandemic and a summer heavily affected by climate change.

Disaster Aid

On July 27th, the House Agriculture Committee passed an $8.5 billion disaster bill to cover losses in agricultural production in 2020 and 2021. On August 2nd, the Senate Ag Appropriations Committee approved $7 billion in disaster assistance through the annual USDA/FDA spending bill, totaling $26 billion in agriculture programs.

While neither bill has passed through the full legislative process yet, it is clear that significant disaster assistance is coming to farmers.

This assistance will provide funding to producers experiencing crop, livestock, and commodity losses due to adverse weather events.

  • Programs include the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) to offset losses from qualifying natural disasters since 2018.
  • Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), chair of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, highlighted a $15 million program to promote “working lands resiliency” through climate-smart production practices (Heller E&E News).

Meatpacking Industry

Meatpacking plants received significant attention throughout the pandemic as they become hotspots for transmission of COVID-19. In response, Vilsack announced in early July that the USDA will invest $500 million in grants, loans, and technical assistance to support smaller processing facilities and allow new ones to enter the market.

This USDA funding will provide better support for the meatpacking industry, particularly at the small and local scale. In order to tackle the large-scale issues of the industry, the Administration issued an executive order, “Promoting Competition in the American Economy.” This executive order directs the USDA to implement rules that better allow farmers to

  • Sue large agribusiness companies over deceptive and exploitive contracts.
  • Additionally, the “Product of USA” meat label will soon exclude animals that have been raised in other countries but processed in the U.S. – which has been allowed until now.

The USDA also plans to revive enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act (which monitors anti-competitive practices in the meat industry), and formally report on market concentration and the monopolistic power posed by meatpacking corporations and agriculture input industries.

Carbon Markets

At the end of June, the Senate passed the Growing Climate Solutions Act, S. 1251 (117) in a 92-8 bipartisan vote, led by Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow. The bill allocates $4 million over four years for the USDA to create a certification program for farmers, ranchers, and foresters to utilize carbon credit markets.

This government support will significantly expand the carbon credit market, where private companies (like Indigo Carbon and TruCarbon) have already begun their own certification processes. 

Farmers and land managers can generate carbon credits by implementing practices that cut carbon emissions or pull carbon dioxide through vegetation and soil. These carbon credits are then purchased by corporations looking to offset their own carbon emissions, providing additional revenue to incentive these land management practices. 

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