Feds pledge $2.3 billion to boost ag exports amid farm bill uncertainty

By: - October 24, 2023 4:05 pm
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack talks trade at a Woodward, Iowa, farm on Aug. 18, 2022. (Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack talks trade at a Woodward, Iowa, farm on Aug. 18, 2022. (Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Federal agricultural officials plan to spend up to $2.3 billion to promote farm exports and to send U.S. grain to countries that are suffering food shortages.

“This will complement existing trade promotion programs as we await Congress’ action on both the budget and the farm bill,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Tuesday.

The farm bill — which governs policy and spending for farm, food and conservation programs — is up for renewal, which typically happens every five years. Some of its provisions expired at the end of September, and more will expire at the end of the year.

Farm bill stalled amid U.S. House speaker battle, delay of spending bills

It’s unclear when federal lawmakers will approve a new farm bill. The U.S. House of Representatives has been without a speaker for about three weeks and, consequently, unable to act on legislation.

A popular trade promotion program that was created in 2018 amid then-President Donald Trump’s trade war with China and other countries is also set to expire next year.

“We continue to look for ways in which we can increase trade opportunities for U.S. agriculture, especially because of the strength of the U.S. economy and the difficulties experienced in the global economy,” Vilsack said. “We now find ourselves with unusual trade deficits in agricultural products.”

The new federal funding — $1.3 billion for the Regional Agricultural Promotion Program and $1 billion to combat global hunger — will be paid out of the Commodity Credit Corporation, which the Biden administration has used for myriad new agriculture initiatives, including those that promote “climate smart” practices.

Some Republican lawmakers have criticized the use of CCC funds for those initiatives. The CCC was created decades ago to assist farmers with catastrophic crop losses, but the USDA has broad spending authority over it.

The latest announced spending was the result of an August request from the top Democrat and Republican of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

“We write to urge you to consider using your authorities with regard to the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act to support the creation of new and better market opportunities for our nation’s farmers by addressing two key needs: trade promotion, and in-kind international food assistance,” U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, and John Boozman, an Arkansas Republican, wrote to the USDA.

They noted bipartisan support for the food assistance because “Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine continues to disrupt supply chains and perpetuate humanitarian crises in the region and around the world.”

Russia invaded Ukraine about 20 months ago. As the fighting continues, Russia has sought to block grain from being exported by Ukraine, especially through its Black Sea ports. Ukraine is a major producer of corn and wheat.

The USDA will use up to $1 billion to buy commodities and distribute them with the help of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the lead federal agency for international emergency food aid programs.

Vilsack said the USDA hopes to finalize the details of the Regional Agricultural Promotion Program funding in the coming months.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Jared Strong is the senior reporter for the Iowa Capital Dispatch. He has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.