Vilsack makes 3 USDA announcements at 2022 Commodity Classic
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made three announcements during the 2022 Commodity Classic held in New Orleans, Louisiana earlier this month. The event was his second major public address since returning to USDA leadership in February 2021.
“We have to grow this economy from the bottom, from the top, and from the middle,” Vilsack said, echoing President Biden’s recent remarks. “I believe that American agriculture can lead this effort.”
Farmers need more, new and better markets to benefit from the value and wealth created by American agriculture, Vilsack said. “For too long, we’ve had an extractive economy where your hard work translates into wealth and opportunity elsewhere,” he told the Farmers Auditorium.
4 trade missions in 2022
Vilsack encouraged diversification of export partners as a way to bring more money to rural communities. Trade with China will require a strategic and thoughtful approach in the future, he said.
“Before the trade war and the pandemic, the United States accounted for about 25% of all agricultural exports to China. In other words, 25% of their agricultural inputs came from us,” Vilsack explained. “During the trade war, they began a systematic process of reducing their dependence on the United States. We reached an agreement to restore a certain balance; they started buying products again. But this only represents 18% of what they import.
As part of the USDA’s efforts to diversify its trading partners, Vilsack recently traveled to Dubai for the department’s first face-to-face trade mission in two years. Twenty-five companies, eight state agriculture department heads and several cooperator groups held 300 meetings in less than a week as part of the trip.
“I am confident that with these 300 meetings we will be able to sell more,” Vilsack said, noting that he anticipates record exports this year. Given this goal, the Vilsack announced that the USDA is sponsoring four more international trade missions in 2022.
June – London, UK
July – Manila, Philippines
October – Nairobi, Kenya
November – Madrid, Spain
The department reports that U.S. agricultural exports hit a record high in 2021, topping $177 billion. There were 28 markets around the world where these exports exceeded $1 billion.
No more empty shipping containers
“I understand and appreciate that we are frustrated that our West Coast ports in particular have seen ships with empty containers leaving ports,” Vilsack continued, explaining that the USDA has reached an agreement with the Port of Oakland to induce and encourage these containers to fill with American agricultural products. Further opportunities for other ports are expected to be announced soon, he said.
“There is no reason in the world for a container leaving our ports to be empty,” Vilsack said.
Funding opportunity for climate-smart commodities
Vilsack moved from trade to more national issues of consumer issues and marketing by food companies. Companies are trying to call their products climate-friendly and sustainably produced with no real standard as to what that actually means, the secretary continued.
“At USDA, we believe farmers should take full advantage of this higher value opportunity and should lead this effort,” Vilsack said.
In an effort to “create additional revenue opportunities that complement traditional revenue opportunities” and create additional revenue streams, the USDA originally announced climate-smart product partnerships in early February 2022.
“America’s farmers, ranchers and forest owners are leading the way in implementing climate-smart solutions in their operations,” Vilsack said when announcing the $1 billion fund for pilot projects. “Through partnerships for climate-smart products, the USDA will provide targeted funding to meet domestic and global demand and expand market opportunities for climate-smart products to increase the competitive advantage of We want a broad spectrum of farmers and foresters to see themselves in this effort, including historically underserved small producers as well as early adopters.
Funding will be provided to partners through the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation for pilot projects to engage growers and landowners to:
Implement climate-smart practices, activities and production systems in working lands,
Measure/quantify, monitor and verify the carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits associated with these practices, and
Develop markets and promote the resulting climate-smart commodities.
Since February, USDA officials have heard from numerous stakeholders that an extension would allow them to prepare more robust applications to continue the development of climate-smart markets for a wide range of producers. At Commodity Classic, Vilsack announced extensions to the application period.
Requests for proposals ranging from $5 million to $100 million are now due May 6 instead of April 8. Smaller proposals in the range of $250,000 to $4,999,999 are due June 10 instead of May 26.
The USDA has provided a website with answers to frequently asked questions in more detail.
USDA investment in US-made fertilizers
Finally, Vilsack concluded his time on stage with another announcement. “I think it’s fair to say that you all have serious issues when it comes to fertilizer costs,” Vilsack said.
The secretary continued, “I think we have to recognize that we are too dependent on outside sources of fertilizer and fertilizer ingredients. We rely on countries that may or may not agree with us on a variety of issues. We had this incredible efficiency based on this global system that we put in place, but we forgot about resilience.
In an effort to kick-start independent fertilizer production nationwide, the USDA will make available $250 million in grants.
More details on the grant application process will be announced later this summer. The first prizes should be distributed before the end of the year.