WASHINGTON, December 22, 2023 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is marking the end of 2023 by highlighting on-the-ground projects and partnerships that are building economic prosperity for farmers, families, and communities nationwide. Thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda – and its record investments in rural America – USDA has been able to help tens of thousands of farmers continue their operations and increase their revenue, connected rural communities to internet access, advanced efforts to mitigate climate change, made investments that give small businesses a leg up, lowered energy costs and costs for consumers, and more.
“For too long, America’s agricultural policies have encouraged farmers to get big or get out, and this in turn has weakened the communities whose local economies are tied to small and mid-sized farms. We’re starting to see the impact of a new way of approaching policies and programs that are better designed for the real needs of rural communities—and the results are promising,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Over the course of the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA has pushed forward with efforts to create revenue-expanding new markets for farmers, help them find opportunity while simultaneously addressing climate change, and build stronger infrastructure that leads to more prosperous farms and communities. In 2023, we saw these changes begin to take hold in tangible ways, which puts extra momentum behind the work we’ll carry out in 2024.”
In 2023, USDA has undertaken historic efforts to strengthen the agricultural economy and rural communities. Some of these initiatives and results include:
Support to Keep Farmers Farming
As of December 2023, USDA has helped more than 30,000 farmers and ranchers who were in financial distress stay on their farms and farming, thanks to resources provided through Section 22006 of the Inflation Reduction Act. The Inflation Reduction Act allocated $3.1 billion for USDA to provide relief for distressed borrowers with certain direct and guaranteed loans, and to expedite assistance for those whose agricultural operations are at financial risk due to factors outside their control, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the law was signed in August 2022, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has provided approximately $1.7 billion and counting in immediate assistance.
At the same time, USDA has greatly improved its loan application processes to better serve farmers, in part through lessons learned from Section 22006 implementation. For example, USDA has streamlined FSA loan applications from 29 pages to 13, dramatically reducing the amount of time it takes to apply for a loan and making the process less onerous. In addition, earlier this month USDA announced an online, interactive, guided application that can simplify the direct loan process for the more than 26,000 customers who apply each year and make it more accessible for those in remote areas or who may not have time to leave their operations and visit an FSA office.
In 2023, the Risk Management Agency (RMA) helped provide the largest farm safety net in history, a record $207 billion in protection for American agriculture. At the same time, the agency continued to introduce new programs to support specialty crops, livestock, controlled environment, and shellfish producers. Additionally, RMA invested over $6.5 million dollars in cooperative agreements and partnerships to help educate undeserved producers and to create workforce opportunities for underrepresented voices in the crop insurance sector.
Connecting Rural Communities
Through the ReConnect Program, USDA has made historic investments to close the digital divide in rural America, so that more Americans can take full advantage of the opportunities provided by internet access.
In 2023, USDA awarded more than $1.8 billion for 96 projects that will help more than 250,000 people in rural communities access affordable, high-speed internet. These projects will benefit over 11,000 farms, 7,300 rural businesses and nearly 500 educational facilities, helping them access the critical resources they need to thrive in the digital age.
The vast majority of these awards were thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), which provided funding for 89 projects totaling $1.73 billion. Through BIL funding , the ReConnect Program is helping to connect over 300,000 rural Americans in total.
Record Enrollment in Conservation and Clean Energy Programs
Through the Inflation Reduction Act, USDA has enrolled more farmers and more acres in voluntary conservation programs than at any point in history, following a backlog that has existed for years. In 2023, USDA enrolled nearly 5,300 additional producers in Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation programs across all 50 states. The Inflation Reduction Act provided $19.5 billion over 5 years for popular conservation programs, including the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
Since 2021, USDA has seen a significant increase in enrollment and interest in its Conservation Reserve Program, which is a critical part of the Department’s efforts to support climate-smart agriculture and forestry on working lands. In October, USDA announced it issued more than $1.77 billion to 667,000 agricultural producers and landowners for 23 million acres of private land enrolled in CRP.
Through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), USDA in 2023 made 2,059 investments totaling over $362 million to help farmers and rural small businesses access renewable energy systems—like solar panels and anaerobic digesters—that lower energy costs, generate new income, and strengthen the resiliency of their operations. Since its creation, REAP has consistently received more interest than funding available. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, which funded 1,950 of this year’s total REAP investments, USDA is helping more agricultural operations and rural small businesses access renewable energy systems and save money on energy costs.
Protecting Communities from Wildfire and Increasing Tree Canopy
In Fiscal Year 2023, USDA’s Forest Service met and exceeded key milestones in addressing the wildfire crisis, restoring national forests and supporting rural communities. These benchmarks included treating 4.3 million acres of national forest system lands to reduce wildfire risk and 1.9 million acres of national forest land with prescribed fire – both were agency records and were enabled through strong partnerships with Tribes, state and local governments, conservation groups, industry and other important stakeholders. Also, the first round of Community Wildfire Defense Grant Awards was announced – investing $197 million in 100 projects in 22 states and seven tribes that were impacted or threatened by wildfires. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided $1 billion for this program over 5 years. The second round of awards will be announced in 2024.
In addition to their ongoing efforts to protect communities and natural resources from the devastating impacts of wildfire, the Forest Service has also invested in the well-being and climate resilience of urban communities. USDA in September announced more than $1 billion to plant and maintain trees, combat extreme heat and climate change, and improve access to nature in cities, towns, and suburbs. Located in all 50 states, the 385 selected projects increase equitable access to trees and nature, and the benefits they provide for cooling city streets, improving air quality, and promoting food security, public health and safety.
Increased Support for Small Businesses Through USDA Food Purchases
To support nutrition programs, including school meal programs and emergency food providers such as food banks and food pantries, USDA procures foods and products from vendors nationwide. In Fiscal Year 2023, 63 percent of USDA’s purchases for domestic nutrition programs came from small business, which the Small Business Administration defines as having fewer than 500 employees. This is an increase of 8 percent over Fiscal Year 2022 and shows that USDA’s efforts to diversify its procurement contracts is taking hold. With this increase, USDA is creating more opportunities to bolster rural communities, support small businesses, and connect small and mid-sized farmers to new markets.
Reducing Hunger and Promoting Health
Through its suite of federal nutrition assistance programs, USDA reached 1 in 4 Americans with healthy food, nutrition education, and other resources, from rural areas to cities and towns across the country. In 2023, USDA expanded access to school breakfast and lunch to students in an estimated 3,000 more school districts in high-need areas; provided greater convenience and access to healthy food options to tens of millions of Americans by expanding online purchasing in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to all 50 states and the District of Columbia; and partnered with states and territories to feed children over the summer through new summer meal service options in rural communities, such as grab-n-go or delivery. USDA also invested nearly $30 million to support school meal improvements in 264 small and rural communities—the largest targeted investment USDA has ever made for school meal programs in small and rural communities.
Leveling the Playing Field for Producers
Consistent with President Biden's Executive Order on Promoting Competition in America’s Economy, USDA in 2023 continued its comprehensive approach to increase competition in agricultural markets, create a fairer playing field for small- and mid-size farmers, and help increase choices and lower costs for consumers.
In 2023, USDA invested millions to increase capacity in the meat and poultry processing industry, which strengthens regional and local food systems and provides producers more options to market their products. In total, the Biden-Harris Administration has awarded nearly $500 million in loans and grants to help over 300 businesses expand their operations.
For example, USDA awarded $98 million in grants to 36 independent processors through the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program (MPPEP) in 2023. USDA also partnered with 29 lenders in 2023 to invest another $190 million to help independent meat and poultry processors start and expand businesses under the Meat and Poultry Intermediary Lending Program (MPILP).
USDA also made headway on strengthening enforcement under the Packers and Stockyards Act, finalizing a rule in November to improve transparency for farmers who have contracts with major poultry processors. This rule helps contract broiler chicken growers compete more effectively and guard against deceptive practices in their relationships with major processing companies. This is the first in a series of rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act USDA that is working to finalize. Additionally, USDA advanced other efforts to enhance competition in agricultural markets, including by standing up a Cattle Contract Library pilot program, forming a new partnership with more than 30 bipartisan State Attorneys General to address anti-competitive practices raising prices and reducing choices in food and grocery markets, piloting a new Farmer Seed Liaison Initiative, and furthering its enforcement partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice. USDA also proposed a rule to help consumers know what they’re getting when they buy meat or poultry labeled “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA.”
Underpinning all of this, U.S. agricultural producers continued a three-year streak of record farm income and three years of record agricultural exports. The last three years of cumulative farm income are the best in 50 years. USDA and the Biden-Harris Administration continue to take on initiatives to grow and diversify U.S. export markets, for example through the recently created Regional Agricultural Promotion Program, to maintain this momentum as much as possible in the years to come.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, promoting competition and fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.
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