December 08, 2022

Commodity Classic: Vilsack tackles trade, climate and fertilizer

NEW ORLEANS — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack touted new action plans for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Commodity Classic in New Orleans.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, National Sorghum Producers and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Vilsack announced three initiatives.

1. Following its in-person trade mission Feb. 16-21 to Dubai — the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — USDA will sponsor four additional international trade missions this year: June 20-23 in the United Kingdom, July 18-21 in the Philippines, Oct. 31-Nov. 3 in Kenya and Nov. 29-Dec. 3 in Spain.

“This is really designed to emphasize the important role we see in expanding opportunity beyond our reliance on one or two key markets,” Vilsack said.

“We need to make sure we are active in a number of these emerging markets. North Africa and the Middle East are two in particular where I think we have some real opportunity. And then Southeast Asia, of course, we are already engaged with and need to expand our efforts there.”

Acknowledging his own frustration that the Biden administration has not yet named an undersecretary for trade, Vilsack said he is confident in the ability of the team at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service to expand and diversify global market opportunities for U.S. agriculture.

“We had a record year in exports last year at $177 billion. We’re expected to break that record this year,” he said.

“So, when you ask a question about what’s going to happen, you need to understand there are a whole heck of a lot of people at USDA that are working very hard to make these trade missions successful. It doesn’t necessarily require a single person to make them successful.”

2. USDA is extending the deadlines to apply for funding from its new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program, which will invest $1 billion in pilot projects that promote farming, ranching and forestry practices that cut greenhouse gas emissions or capture and store climate-warming carbon.

This investment is the latest Biden administration initiative aimed at combating climate change, with a goal to cut the farm sector’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and put the United States on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050.

The deadlines have been extended from April 8 to May 6 for large-scale proposals between $5 million and $100 million and from May 26 to June 10 for small-scale proposals between $250,000 and $5 million.

3. USDA will provide $250 million in grants to incentivize more fertilizer options. Applications will be available this summer with awards made by the end of this year.

Vilsack said he wants input from the fertilizer market about how the program should be structured.

The goal is to become more self-reliant and more resilient, not promote even greater concentration, he stressed.

The new program will support fertilizer production that is independent, made in America, innovative, sustainable and farmer-focused, Vilsack said.

Fertilizer prices have more than doubled since last year due to many factors.

“We want the ag industry and farmers to know we get it. We know that you’re challenged with fertilizer costs. There are things we can do, things we can’t do, obviously. It’s a pretty big problem involving lots of different moving parts,” Vilsack said.

James Henry

James Henry

Executive Editor