Secretary Sonny Reflects on Year at USDA12/28/2018
It’s the time of year for reflection and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue reflected on the 2018 accomplishments at USDA.
“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 who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to self-sufficiency. USDA’s proposal helps ensure the 3.8 million individual adults receiving SNAP benefits get back to work and on the path to self-sufficiency.
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 recipients replace food lost due to power outages and 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 consider 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 merged the Agricultural Marketing Service, Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, and the Farm Service Agency’s Commodity Operations programs.
USDA stood up a new Farm Production and Conservation 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.
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% and the number of high vulnerabilities by 73%, 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 towards 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 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. 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. USDA worked 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 announced that U.S. cotton is free — after more than 100 years — of the devastating pink bollworm. As a result, USDA lifted the domestic quarantine for pink bollworm, relieving restrictions on the domestic and international movement of U.S. cotton. This pest cost U.S. producers tens of millions of dollars in yearly control costs and yield losses.
APHIS and its partners also successfully eliminated feral swine from Maryland and New Jersey, and three Iowa, Maine, and Oregon saw significant reductions in feral swine populations.
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
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 in 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.