Perdue celebrates year of achievement at USDA

On Dec. 16, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue celebrated a year of achievements for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“While this was a tough year with the coronavirus, historic wildfires, and weather damage, USDA met these challenges with a multitude of programs and services to support Americans and keep our agricultural sector running and responsive to the country’s needs,” Perdue said in a press release. “We salute our mission areas and agencies for keeping our customers front and center, serving the American people, farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers.”

Each of the USDA’s divisions and mission areas were given recognition.

Coronavirus Food Assistance Program

Working with the Office of the Chief Economist, the Office of the General Counsel, and the Agricultural Marketing Service, Farm Service Agency and the Farm Production and Conservation Business Center quickly built and delivered two rounds of CFAP, which provides financial assistance to help producers absorb some of the revenue losses and increased marketing costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, CFAP 1 and CFAP 2 made available $30 billion in relief. Additionally, USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service worked together to adopt new processes for electronic signatures to ensure producer and field staff could use electronic tools safely and securely.

Farmers to Families Food Box Program

Responding to the coronavirus crisis and its disruption of food logistics and demand, AMS purchased $8.6 billion in food for delivery to food banks, churches, schools, community organizations, tribal organizations, and international food aid organizations through various programs during Fiscal Year 2020. Using Coronavirus Food Assistance Program funding, USDA announced the Farmers to Families Food Box Program on April 17. Through this program, USDA partnered with national, regional and local distributors whose workforces have been affected by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other food service businesses, to purchase up to $4.5 billion in fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat products from American producers of all sizes. Distributors then package these products into family-sized boxes and transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits serving Americans in need. The Food Box Program has provided more than 125 million food boxes to Americans in need and will purchase nearly $4.5 billion worth of food by the end of the year.

Other food access steps

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service took steps to ensure that children and low-income individuals had access to nutritious food in response to the pandemic as well. FNS issued more than 4,000 program flexibilities to adjust to local needs and maximize access for all eligible families across each of USDA’s 15 nutrition assistance programs. In October, USDA announced it would allow free meals to continue to be available to all children throughout the entire 2020-2021 school year. “This move is part of USDA’s unwavering commitment to ensuring all children across America have access to nutritious food as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency said.

Trade agreements

• In January, the United States and China reached agreement on a Phase One trade deal that set forth structural and technical reforms to China’s trade practices in the areas of intellectual property, technology transfer, agriculture, financial services, and currency and foreign exchange. The Phase One agreement addressed many non-tariff barriers to U.S. agriculture; it also included a commitment by China to make substantial purchases of U.S. goods and services. This agreement led to a “record” pace of Chinese purchases in many sectors, the USDA said, boosting commodity prices.

• In July, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement replaced the decades-old North American Free Trade Agreement. The new agreement expanded market access for U.S. farmers to sell their products to our closest neighbors. In ongoing engagements with the European Union, and as the U.S. pursues a post-Brexit free trade agreement with the United Kingdom, Perdue and the USDA called for transparent, science-based trade policies that foster innovation and ensure that agriculture remains economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.

Innovation and Sustainability Agenda

Through the Agriculture Innovation Agenda, USDA committed to stimulate innovation so that American agriculture can achieve the goal of increasing U.S. agricultural production by 40% while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050. As one example of Agriculture Innovation Agenda efforts, USDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are working together to deliver on the U.S. national goal of reducing food loss and waste by 50% by 2030 through consumer education, food date labeling, measurement, and collaboration with private industry.

Rural broadband

USDA invested $1.3 billion to support rural broadband expansion through the ReConnect Pilot Program. Included in this total was $85 million provided through the CARES Act. In total, these investments are connecting approximately 280,000 households, 19,978 farms and 10,053 businesses to high-speed internet.

New biotech rules

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The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service helped eradicate a disease-causing bacterium from more than 650 U.S. commercial greenhouses in just two months; eradicated an outbreak of avian influenza in North and South Carolina, preventing its spread to other areas and limiting the overall impact on the poultry industry; and published the final SECURE rule, the first-ever major revision of USDA’s biotechnology regulations, which streamlines and modernizes its biotech regulatory system; and established the first-ever robust foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank.

Swine fever vaccine, invasive hornet research

Agricultural Research Service scientists identified a promising, highly effective new vaccine that protects against the circulating strain of African Swine Fever that is affecting the pork industry in Europe and Asia. In just two months, ARS researchers produced the entire genome of the Asian giant hornet, a new invasive insect that is a threat to honeybee colonies. ARS made the data freely accessible to researchers even before publishing in a scientific journal to help coordinate an effective and rapid response. ARS scientists also designed the scent lure for traps that led to the detection and destruction of the first nest of these invasive insects in the United States. To help inform livestock and poultry producers, ARS initiated emergency response research on SARS-CoV-2; the research demonstrated that livestock and poultry species are not a source of infection for SARS-CoV-2 and insects are not a risk factor for the transmission of the virus to humans.