BY TIMOTHY EGGERT
Standing near a vintage John Deere tractor on an 800-acre farm in northeastern rural Illinois, President Joe Biden Wednesday announced measures to boost domestic fertilizer production and incentives for double cropping.
Biden joined USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack at O'Connor Farms in Kankakee to unveil the provisions, which are aimed at boosting food production amid the war in Ukraine and ongoing supply chain issues.
"I stand here today to thank American farmers ... who are the breadbasket of democracy. You really are," said Biden, who before Wednesday hadn't yet visited Illinois as president.
The new measures include another $250 million for a USDA grant program to boost domestic fertilizer production and a push to expand federal crop insurance benefits for double cropping.
Biden and Vilsack also announced an initiative by USDA to increase outreach to farmers, to streamline applications and prioritize application approvals for federal precision agriculture programs.
"To all of our farmers, I want you to know: Your congresswoman, me, the secretaries of my Cabinet — we have your back," Biden said.
"We have to keep investing in our farmers to reduce the costs, to reduce prices to consumers and have the most productive, most efficient farmers in the world here in the United States," Biden said.
Attending Wednesday's event were U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson; Illinois House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch; State Sen. Patrick Joyce; Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Scott Halpin; and Rural Development State Director Betsy Dirksen Londrigan.
Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr., IFB District 6 Director Keith Mussman and other IFB staff, along with representatives from Illinois Corn Growers Association and Illinois Soybean Association were also on hand for the announcement.
Guebert called double cropping wheat and soybeans, a practice he employs on his Randolph County farm, "a real challenge."
"But we look forward to the funding ... it provides an opportunity for extra income on those acres."
The insurance benefits build on a previous policy introduced by the Farm Service Agency earlier this year, which was limited to a handful of counties across the country, including a few dozen in Illinois. Now, the benefits will include 681 additional counties, bringing the total number of counties the practice qualifies for crop insurance to as many as 1,935.
"The growing season for wheat is short, and if the weather conditions aren’t ideal or aren’t at least good, or there are other disruptions, then the timing of everything is thrown off," Biden said. "But it’s a risk we need to take."
Wednesday's announcement comes as the administration faces pressure from ag groups and farm-state lawmakers to address skyrocketing fertilizer prices.
Those prices and supply issues have been compounded with the war, as Russia is a top exporter of raw ingredients needed to make fertilizer.
Guebert welcomed the additional funding, but said it "won't be a quick fix." He said the administration could streamline the permitting process to get facilities built and online sooner.
"And I surely hope they give consideration to the wholesale market for our local cooperatives to add fertilizer storage or for farmers to add storage on the farm to have access to it when they need it and to get it in the off season," Guebert said.
The administration's move to unveil the additional funding from an Illinois farm shows that previous calls to amend the issue "didn't fall on deaf ears," Guebert said.
The visit also follows news Tuesday that Congress has dropped a $500 million proposal from the administration to boost production of soybeans, wheat and other crops to help offset global food shortages stemming from the war.
The ag plan would have included $100 million to provide a $10-per-acre payment to farmers who double-crop, planting a soybean crop after a winter wheat crop in 2023.
It would have also allocated $400 million to fund a two-year increase in loan rates for producers to incentivize them to grow wheat, rice and edible oilseeds like soybeans, sunflowers and rice.
Asked by FarmWeek how he could square Wednesday's announcement with the dropped funding, Vilsack said "that conversation is not over."
"We've got some flexibilities we're going to utilize at USDA," Vilsack said. "We're going to take a look at CRP and allow as acres are coming out of the program allow folks to get into the field and do a little preparatory work before the end of September, which will make it a little easier for folks."
Asked if those incentives that encourage farmers to plant more could bring down commodity prices, Vilsack said "it's a delicate balance."
"Farmers have basically spoken by taking some acres out of CRP," Vilsack said. "That's basically what they're interested in doing so we're trying to respond to the needs of the farm community, trying to expand opportunity and lower costs for consumers and at the same time meet this very significant issue of food security."
This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.