The Senate’s ag priorities for 2021

We are learning about the priorities for agriculture in the U.S. Senate after the new leadership detailed plants for the year ahead.

The Senate Ag Committee is looking to develop policies to deal with the pandemic, create economic opportunities for farmers, and feed a hungry nation. Incoming Chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow, says that she wants to move quickly on voluntary, producer driven climate policy.

According to Stabenow, “The most important thing is that we put in place the technical assistance and information so that our farmers and foresters feel comfortable in measuring the carbon and that they are going to be able to turn that into carbon credits, and the technical piece of that is very important. So, we need to move forward on the Growing Climate Solutions Act.”

She says that the committee will also lay the groundwork for the 2023 Farm Bill by identifying pilot programs that should become permanent and continuing to strengthen the farm safety net.

“The focus of the Farm Bill has always been risk management, not just ad hoc payments,” the Senator states. “We did away with that, we strengthened crop insurance, we put in place risk management tools and conservation, and developed something that I think was defendable to those who aren’t normally supportive of agricultural support and effective and we need to get back to that approach.”

The committee also plans to work on expanding food and nutrition programs to help families struggling during the pandemic: “Senator Bozeman and I both feel strongly that we need to move forward with the Child Nutrition Bill that is supposed to be reauthorized every five years, but it has not been reauthorized for the last ten years. We are both committed to focusing on a healthy future for our children and access to healthy meals during the school day and summer months, and of course continuing to adjust to what’s happening right now in COVID.”

As part of the pandemic response, the Trump administration created the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, but payments are currently frozen under a Biden executive order to freeze all actions by the outgoing administration.

Senator Stabenow supports evaluating how CFAP money is being spent.

“There are things that we wrote them that they should do that they did not do,” she adds. “Like supply chain issues, a billion dollars that would deal with some of the issues that are challenging farmers because they are in the bulk supply chain, that aren’t able to then move surplus milk to the food banks and they are hurt more than anybody else-- dumping that milk or turning fruits and vegetables under.”

She says that the ag section of the CARES Act also included funding for protective equipment for farm workers and provisions to help processors retool during the pandemic, but the former administration did not address those concerns.