READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Friday, February 26th

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Vilsack Starts Second Tenure at USDA, Climate Work Begins

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke with the media Thursday, following this week’s Senate vote to confirm his nomination. Vilsack was sworn in Wednesday evening by Vice President Kamala Harris. He returns to the Department of Agriculture after serving eight years at the same post during the Obama administration. Vilsack spoke as the House Agriculture Committee explored U.S. agriculture’s role in climate change solutions. Much of the climate conversation regarding agriculture focuses on establishing a climate bank or market, paying farmers for climate-smart practices. Vilsack says President Joe Biden has a vision of a net-zero emission U.S. agriculture, adding, “I think it has the capacity to fundamentally change U.S. agriculture in a positive way and create new revenue sources.” However, he says that work won’t happen in a single administration, but added “the work has to begin.” Vilsack planned to meet with the USDA climate team Friday. Vilsack says USDA’s role will be to provide technical guidance to lawmakers and the administration in crafting climate policies.

Editor’s Note: Find Thursday’s media call with Vilsack on the Long-form audio page.

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USDA Extends CFAP Application Deadline

The Department of Agriculture Thursday extended the deadline to apply for the latest round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters the sign-up period will be extended, allowing producers more time to apply. The deadline will extend 30 days after USDA completes a review of the program. As part of the Biden administration review of federal programs, USDA suspended the processing and payments under the program. The American Farm Bureau Federation requested the deadline extension in a letter to Vilsack earlier in the week. Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall stated, “Recent severe weather and the suspension of CFAP payments led to challenges and confusion surrounding the application process.” Vilsack says USDA is in the process of reviewing the program. Vilsack says, “We want to make sure that as we implement this next level of support that we do so, within the resources provided, do it in an equitable way, and try to respond to some of the legitimate concerns.”

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CoBank: Weak Dollar Benefits Commodities

The value of the U.S. dollar weakened substantially since March 2020 and is expected to experience modest deflation in 2021, making U.S. ag products more competitive globally. However, CoBank reports not all commodities are affected equally given the diversity in global export competition and foreign exchange rates. Fundamental factors like tariffs and weather conditions in key agricultural producing regions often dominate market dynamics despite currency impacts. A CoBank researcher says, “some agricultural commodities like grains, oilseeds, and cotton will face a currency headwind.”  A CoBank index tracking commodities reveals that U.S. animal protein exports are expected to benefit from a modest tailwind fueled by a weaker U.S. dollar in 2021. The U.S. trade-weighted grain and oilseed index strengthened by 14 percent in 2020 and is expected to gain another four to five percent in 2021. Dairy products are expected to receive potential support from global factors. Finally, U.S. cotton faces headwinds from weaker foreign currency values in 2021, according to CoBank.

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Coalition Urges Lawmakers to Protect Crop Insurance

The Crop Insurance Coalition urges lawmakers to protect crop insurance from budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year 2022 budget process. The coalition of 58 partners recently sent a letter to key lawmakers detailing the request. Letters were also sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The coalition says farmers need access to a strong and secure federal crop insurance program. The letters say the last several years have brought an onslaught of uncertainty for America’s farmers and ranchers – from weather extremes to the disruptions of international markets to COVID-19 and its unique challenges. Given the challenges rural America faces and the nature of crop insurance, the coalition says cuts to the program should be avoided. Referring to ad hoc programs supporting farmers over the last three years, the letter states, “it would only serve to undercut these efforts to propose harmful changes to a crop insurance program.”

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Western U.S. Stress by Drought

The Western half of the United States is reported in various stages of drought in the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday. Much of the Southwestern U.S. is in a classified extreme or exceptional drought, with the worst states being Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. The Drought Monitor reports frequent Pacific storms battered the Northwest and tracked southeastward across the Northern and Central Rockies, dropping plentiful moisture on Washington, Oregon, northern California, Idaho, and western Montana. However, the moisture missed most of the Southwest. In contrast, much of the Eastern half of the country is not experiencing drought conditions, with a few small pockets of abnormally dry conditions. Storms also dropped widespread precipitation on much of the Southeast, mid-Atlantic, and coastal New England, while most of the Midwest saw light frozen precipitation in the last week. Little or no precipitation fell on south Texas and northeastern Texas into southeastern Oklahoma, expanding drought severity in the region.

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USDA Invests $42 Million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine

The Department of Agriculture Thursday announced a $42.3 million investment to help rural residents access health care and educational opportunities. USDA says rural areas are seeing higher infection and death rates related to COVID-19 due to several factors, including a much higher percentage of underlying conditions, difficulty accessing medical care, and lack of health insurance. A recent report by the Rural Policy Research Institute’s Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis found infection and death rates in rural America due to COVID-19 are 13.4 percent higher than in urban areas. USDA Economic Research Service data also confirms the data. The $42.3 million includes $24 million provided through the CARES Act and will reach five million rural residents. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says, “With health care and education increasingly moving to online platforms, the time is now to make historic investments in rural America to improve quality of life for decades to come.”

SOURCE: NAFB News Service

By Brian Allmer - The BARN

Brian Allmer & the BARN are members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB), the Colorado FFA Foundation, the Colorado 4H Foundation, the Colorado Farm Show Marketing Committee, 1867 Club Board Member, Denver Ag & Livestock Club Member, the Weld County Fair Board, the Briggsdale FFA Advisory Council, Briggsdale 4H Club Beef Leader & Founder / Coordinator of the Briggsdale Classic Open Jackpot Show.