U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded the accomplishments made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over the past year. USDA has continued enacting President Trump’s goals of regulatory reform, streamlining government and refocusing USDA to be customer oriented.
“In 2018 we have fought for American farmers, ranchers and producers by delivering new and improved trade deals like USMCA and a re-negotiated KORUS agreement, provided trade assistance to farmers due to illegal trade retaliation, and helped our fellow citizens through devastating natural disasters,” Perdue said. “I am proud to say that every day at USDA we do our best to live by our motto to “Do Right and Feed Everyone.”
USDA made major strides in reigning in dependence on government assistance by beginning the rule-making process to move more able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to self-sufficiency. With today’s strong economy and more jobs available than there are workers, USDA’s proposal helps ensure the 3.8 million individual ABAWDs receiving SNAP benefits get back to work and on the path to self-sufficiency.
USDA has significant roles to play in helping agricultural producers recover from hurricane-related damage and improve agricultural resilience to disasters. USDA provided a broad range of assistance to residents, agricultural producers and impacted communities at large following Hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018. This assistance has included: providing children affected by Hurricane Florence access to free meals, helping Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients replace food lost due to power outages, providing disaster food assistance to low-income families affected by storms who would not normally be eligible for the regular program but because of disaster related expenses have need for assistance, assisting producers suffering damage to working lands and cattle mortality, helping businesses and utilities by considering requests to defer principal and/or interest payments, and providing emergency farm loans to impacted operations. In addition to offering similar assistance following Hurricane Michael, USDA also held workshops in the area where the hurricane made landfall to help connect producers with USDA programs that can help them rebuild their operations. Finally, USDA provided subject matter expertise to the FEMA Emergency Support Functions responding to these and other disasters as part of the whole-of-government effort.
In the past year, the USDA Forest Service treated more than 3.5 million acres to reduce hazardous fuels and improve forest health through timber sales and prescribed fire. The USFS treated an additional 2.5 million acres to improve watershed conditions, ecosystems, infrastructure, and provide clean water for millions of Americans. Additionally, the USFS fought multiple major wildfires in 2018 conjointly with local authorities.
USDA successfully merged the Agricultural Marketing Service, Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, and the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Commodity Operations programs to better meet the needs of farmers, ranchers, producers and consumers while improving customer service and maximizing efficiencies.
USDA stood up a new Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) mission area, which encompass the USDA’s domestic-facing agencies: FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency. The Department also launched the FPAC Business Center in 2018, which will eliminate redundant administrative support functions, including human resources, information technology, finance, procurement and property management. USDA strives to be the most customer-focused and customer-oriented department in the federal government.
USDA also made other efforts to improve customer service across the agencies:
- Created “Tell Sonny” Online Feedback Tool: Through collaboration with the Centers of Excellence, USDA built an online feedback tool, called “Tell Sonny,” which captures citizen feedback on how USDA is doing.
- Optimized Infrastructure: USDA achieved $21.5 million in cost savings/avoidance by optimizing its Enterprise Data Centers, and by consolidating and closing a total of 23 data centers as part of the Data Center Optimization Initiative.
- Strengthened Cybersecurity: USDA decreased the number of critical vulnerabilities per endpoint by 62 percent and the number of high vulnerabilities by 73 percent, decreasing USDA’s weaknesses in software or hardware that can be exploited by a hacker.
- Reduced Fleet Size: After reviewing the motor fleet, USDA reduced its fleet size by over 4,200 vehicles, which will potentially avoid an estimated $26 million in costs in fiscal year 2019.
Through the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the United States made major strides toward strengthening its highly productive and integrated trade relationship with its North American neighbors, ensuring preferential access for U.S. agricultural exports and solidifying commitments to fair and science-based trade rules.
USDA efforts to break down barriers and pursue export opportunities resulted in new or expanded market access for numerous U.S. farm products in 2018. These included dairy and poultry to Canada under the USMCA, as well as lamb and goat meat to Japan, beef and pork to Argentina, poultry to India and Namibia, lamb to El Salvador, beef and poultry to Morocco, eggs to South Africa and dairy to Turkey.
Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) staff around the globe assisted U.S. exporters in releasing hundreds of shipments that were detained at foreign ports. This ensured that more than $77 million of perishable U.S. products arrived safely at their final destinations. Among them were beef to Bulgaria, cherries to Taiwan, cranberries to China, lobsters to the United Arab Emirates and squid to Peru.
Trade Assistance to Farmers
In 2018, USDA provided a range of assistance to farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation by foreign nations. To help ensure this assistance reaches those affected, FSA is facilitating the Market Facilitation Program to provide payments to corn, cotton, dairy, hog, sorghum, soybean and wheat producers; AMS is managing a Food Purchase and Distribution Program to purchase up to $1.2 billion in commodities that will be distributed through nutrition assistance programs and child nutrition programs; and FAS is making available $200 million to develop foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products.
USDA provided over 2,000 items of technical assistance to members of Congress during the 2018 farm bill legislative process. In order to serve America’s farmers, producers, and ranchers to the best of our ability, USDA worked hand in hand with legislators to give technical assistance for dozens of programs affected by this year’s farm bill.
Eradication of Pink Bollworm and Other Invasive Species
In October, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced that U.S. cotton is free — after more than 100 years — of the devastating pink bollworm. This pest cost U.S. producers tens of millions of dollars in yearly control costs and yield losses. Thanks to rigorous control and regulatory activities carried out by USDA, state departments of agriculture, the U.S. cotton industry, and growers, pink bollworm was eliminated from all cotton-producing areas in the continental United States. As a result, USDA lifted the domestic quarantine for pink bollworm, relieving restrictions on the domestic and international movement of U.S. cotton. APHIS and its partners also successfully eliminated feral swine from Maryland and New Jersey, and three additional states (Iowa, Maine and Oregon) saw significant reductions in feral swine populations. Additionally, in FY18, APHIS declared two Ohio communities free of Asian longhorned beetle, in Monroe Township after a seven-year eradication effort and in Stonelick Township after a six-year effort.
National School Lunch Program
To make school meals more appealing to children, reduce food waste and ease operational burdens, USDA published a final rule allowing for more flexibilities in the food served through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. This action is part of USDA’s Regulatory Reform Agenda, developed in response to President Trump’s Executive Order to eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens.
Secretary Perdue launched a USDA initiative to provide comprehensive and timely support to veterans interested in opportunities in agriculture, agribusiness and rural America. USDA wants to ensure veterans looking to return home, or start a new career on a farm or in a rural community, have the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. The resources include a veterans website and a USDA-wide AgLearn curriculum to allow all employees to understand the unique opportunities offered to our nation’s veterans.
USDA Agency Accomplishments
USDA is made up of 29 agencies and offices with nearly 100,000 employees who serve the American people at more than 4,500 locations across the country. While each mission area’s accomplishments may be found by using the links below, notable accomplishments are as follows:
- Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) collaborated across USDA agencies to develop and implement a program to purchase targeted commodities to assist farmers and ranchers affected by unfair trade tariffs.
- Agricultural Research Service scientists at the Cotton Chemistry and Utilization Research Unit in New Orleans, Louisiana, developed TACgauze™ – a domestically-produced, nonwoven, cotton gauze made of greige (raw, unbleached) cotton. In comparison to standard crinkle-type gauzes made of processed cotton, TACgauze was found to be 33 percent lighter and 63 percent more absorbent in trials. It also promoted clotting more quickly. Commercialized in November, military services organizations are evaluating TACgauze for use by our warfighters on the battlefield and civilian organizations are exploring its widespread use in treating wounds.
- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service played a vital role to ensure the free flow of agricultural trade by keeping U.S. agricultural industries free from pests and diseases. An example of this critical work is APHIS’ recent efforts to prevent African Swine Fever from entering the United States through a series of interlocking safeguards that includes working with producers, states and industry to ensure they are following biosecurity recommendations, restricting pork and pork imports from affected countries, and working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to train inspection dogs and increase screening vigilance for passengers and products arriving from affected countries.
- Economic Research Service conducted a study on how agricultural production has shifted to much larger farming operations over the last three decades, even as the number of very small farms grows. Based on detailed farm-level data, Three Decades of Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture measured trends in consolidation and tracked developments in farm-level specialization as well as the organization of farming businesses.
- Farm Service Agency (FSA) added seed cotton as a covered commodity under the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs for the 2018 crop year, which provides cotton producers access to USDA risk management tools that provide other covered commodities much-needed protection from low markets.
- Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspected more than 160 million head of livestock and 9.47 billion poultry carcasses. FSIS Inspectors also conducted 6.9 million food safety and food defense procedures across 6,500 regulated establishments to ensure meat, poultry and processed egg products were safe and wholesome.
- Food and Nutrition Service provided almost 13 million pounds of USDA Foods, valued at $18.6 million, and $5.6 million worth of infant formula and baby food, to ensure those whose lives were disrupted by disaster have the food they need as they got back on their feet.
- Foreign Agricultural Service facilitated $2 billion in exports of U.S. agricultural commodities to Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, and Asia through the GSM-102 Export Credit Guarantee Program. FAS rolled out the Agricultural Trade Promotion Program, which helps to mitigate the effects of other countries’ trade barriers by helping U.S. agricultural exporters develop new markets. A total of 71 organizations have applied for the program, submitting requests totaling more than $600 million, for funding that will be allocated in early 2019.
- Forest Service (USFS) made improvements in environmental analysis and decision-making to cut costs by $30 million, and reduced analysis time by 10 percent. The USFS worked with sister agencies to update policies and processes for more efficient application and implementation of mineral extraction and energy production projects. The agency also reformed wildland fire systems to prioritize risk-based resource allocation and lower costs while protecting lives, property and resources.
- National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) launched a new, improved online survey questionnaire for the 2017 Census of Agriculture. The new system is now in use for nearly 50 percent of NASS surveys with the remainder coming online as they are conducted. The user-friendly questionnaire is accessible on any device, calculates totals automatically, and skips questions that do not apply. In addition to being more convenient for respondents, it streamlines data collection and analysis for USDA.
- National Institute of Food and Agriculture delivered grants to the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development and Purdue Extension to host a quarterly webinar series, Combating Opioids, to make a difference in addressing opioid misuse and abuse, especially in rural communities. There have been over 575 participants from across the country on five webinars and over 1,000 views to archived presentations and materials housed on the project’s website
- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided technical assistance to more than 900,000 land managers, and comprehensive planning assistance to over 100,000 producers in 2018. This work resulted in conservation plans for nearly 28 million acres. NRCS actions in 2018 also resulted in 33.3 million acres being treated with conservation practices to improve water quality, with estimated reductions of nutrient loss of 47,732 tons of nitrogen and 7,821 tons of phosphorus on cropland.
- Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) in October, USDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) signed a joint agency formal agreement launching the Winning on Reducing Food Waste initiative. This new agreement will improve coordination across federal agencies to better educate Americans on the impacts and importance of reducing food loss and waste.
- Risk Management Agency (RMA) provided more than $61 million in coverage following Hurricanes Florence and Michael. RMA paid more than $1.99 billion in claims for causes of loss related to drought for the 2018 reinsurance year. Claims for 2018 coverage totaled more than $3.29 billion.
- Rural Development (RD) invested in new and improved high-speed e-Connectivity for more than 45,000 rural homes and businesses, modernized rural electric infrastructure for more than 7 million customers, invested in new and improved water and wastewater infrastructure for nearly 3 million rural customers, and invested in new and improved community infrastructure including streets, transportation, aviation, ports, and water and storm water resources for 1.2 million rural Americans.