Seal of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Logo of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Flag of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
|Formed||May 15, 1862|
Cabinet status: February 15, 1889
|Jurisdiction||U.S. federal government|
|Headquarters|| Jamie L. Whitten Building |
1301 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C.
|Employees||105,778 (June 2007)|
|Annual budget||US$151 billion (2017)|
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), also known as the Agriculture Department, is the U.S. federal executive department responsible for developing and executing federal laws related to farming, forestry, rural economic development, and food. It aims to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers, promotes agricultural trade and production, works to assure food safety, protects natural resources, fosters rural communities and works to end hunger in the United States and internationally.
Approximately 80% of the USDA's $141 billion budget goes to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) program. The largest component of the FNS budget is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp program), which is the cornerstone of USDA's nutrition assistance.
The current Secretary of Agriculture is Sonny Perdue.
Many of the programs concerned with the distribution of food and nutrition to people of America and providing nourishment as well as nutrition education to those in need are run and operated under the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Activities in this program include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides healthy food to over 40 million low-income and homeless people each month.USDA is a member of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, where it is committed to working with other agencies to ensure these mainstream benefits have been accessed by those experiencing homelessness.
The USDA also is concerned with assisting farmers and food producers with the sale of crops and food on both the domestic and world markets. It plays a role in overseas aid programs by providing surplus foods to developing countries. This aid can go through USAID, foreign governments, international bodies such as World Food Program, or approved nonprofits. The Agricultural Act of 1949, section 416 (b) and Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954, also known as Food for Peace, provides the legal basis of such actions. The USDA is a partner of the World Cocoa Foundation.
Early in its history, the economy of the United States was largely agrarian. Officials in the federal government had long sought new and improved varieties of seeds, plants and animals for import into the United States. In 1837 Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, a Yale-educated attorney interested in improving agriculture, became Commissioner of Patents, a position within the Department of State. He began collecting and distributing new varieties of seeds and plants through members of the Congress and agricultural societies. In 1839, Congress established the Agricultural Division within the Patent Office and allotted $1,000 for "the collection of agricultural statistics and other agricultural purposes."Ellsworth's interest in aiding agriculture was evident in his annual reports that called for a public depository to preserve and distribute the various new seeds and plants, a clerk to collect agricultural statistics, the preparation of statewide reports about crops in different regions, and the application of chemistry to agriculture. Ellsworth was called the "Father of the Department of Agriculture."
In 1849, the Patent Office was transferred to the newly created Department of the Interior. In the ensuing years, agitation for a separate bureau of agriculture within the department or a separate department devoted to agriculture kept recurring.
On May 15, 1862, Abraham Lincoln established the independent Department of Agriculture to be headed by a commissioner without Cabinet status, and the agriculturalist Isaac Newton was appointed to be the first such commissioner.Lincoln called it the "people's department."
In 1868, the department moved into the new Department of Agriculture Building in Washington, D.C. designed by famed DC architect Adolf Cluss. Located on Reservation No.2 on the National Mall between 12th Street and 14th SW, the department had offices for its staff and the entire width of the Mall up to B Street NW to plant and experiment with plants.
In the 1880s, varied advocacy groups were lobbying for Cabinet representation. Business interests sought a Department of Commerce and Industry, and farmers tried to raise the Department of Agriculture to Cabinet rank. In 1887, the House of Representatives and Senate passed bills giving Cabinet status to the Department of Agriculture and Labor, but the bill was defeated in conference committee after farm interests objected to the addition of labor. Finally, on February 9, 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill into law elevating the Department of Agriculture to Cabinet level.
In 1887, the Hatch Act provided for the federal funding of agricultural experiment stations in each state. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 then funded cooperative extension services in each state to teach agriculture, home economics, and other subjects to the public. With these and similar provisions, the USDA reached out to every county of every state.[ citation needed ]
During the Great Depression, farming remained a common way of life for millions of Americans. The Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Home Economics, established in 1923, published shopping advice and recipes to stretch family budgets and make food go farther. [ citation needed ]USDA helped ensure that food continued to be produced and distributed to those who needed it, assisted with loans for small landowners, and contributed to the education of the rural youth.
It was revealed on August 27, 2018, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be providing U.S. farmers with a farm aid package, which will total $4.7 billion in direct payments to American farmers. This package is meant to offset the losses farmers are expected to incur from retaliatory tariffs placed on American exports during the Trump tariffs.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress allocated funding to the USDA for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. This provided $16 billion for farmers and ranchers, and $3 billion to purchase surplus produce, dairy, and meat from farmers for distribution to charitable organizations.As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), USDA has up to an additional $873.3 million available in Section 32 funding to purchase a variety of agricultural products for distribution to food banks, $850 million for food bank administrative costs and USDA food purchases.
USDA's offices and agencies are listed below, with full-time equivalent staff levels according to the estimated FY2019 appropriation, as reported in USDA's FY2020 Congressional Budget Justification.
|Staff Offices||Deputy Secretary of Agriculture|
|Agriculture Buildings and Facilities||82|
|Hazardous Materials Management||4|
|Office of Budget and Program Analysis||45|
|Office of Civil Rights||130|
|Office of Communications||73|
|Office of Ethics||20|
|Office of Hearings and Appeals||77|
|Office of Homeland Security||58|
|Office of Inspector General||482|
|Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement||44|
|Office of the Chief Economist||64|
|Office of the Chief Financial Officer||1,511|
|Office of the Chief Information Officer||1,157|
|Office of the General Counsel||252|
|Office of the Secretary||113|
|Farm Production and Conservation||Farm Service Agency||11,278|
|Risk Management Agency||450|
|Natural Resources Conservation Service||10,798|
|Farm Production and Conservation Business Center||1,879 (FY20 est.)|
|Rural Development||Rural Housing Service, Rural Business-Cooperative Service, Rural Utilities Service||4,389|
|Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services||Food and Nutrition Service||1,558|
|Food Safety||Food Safety and Inspection Service||9,332|
|Natural Resources and Environment||United States Forest Service||30,539|
|Marketing and Regulatory Programs||Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service||7,901|
|Agricultural Marketing Service||3,694|
|Research, Education, and Economics||Agricultural Research Service||6,166|
|National Institute of Food and Agriculture||358|
|Economic Research Service||330|
|National Agricultural Statistics Service||937|
|Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs||Foreign Agricultural Service||1,019|
In 2015, then Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack expressed the desire to resign to President Obama. The Washington Post reports that he said "There are days when I have literally nothing to do," he recalled thinking as he weighed his decision to quit."President Obama did not accept his resignation but assigned him additional tasks of combating opioid addiction, a task usually not assigned to the Department of Agriculture.
Allegations have been made that throughout the agency's history its personnel have discriminated against farmers of various backgrounds, denying them loans and access to other programs well into the 1990s.The effect of this discrimination has been the reduction in the number of African-American farmers in the United States. Many black farmers across the nation experienced discrimination in their dealings with in-state USDA agencies. Across the nation, black farmers alleged, and the USDA later agreed, they were denied access to loans and subsidies provided by the government. On a national level, farm subsidies that were afforded to white farmers were not afforded to black farmers. Since they were denied government loans, emergency or disaster assistance, and other aid, many black farmers lost their farms and homes.
In 1999, the USDA settled a class action lawsuit, the Pigford Case, alleging discrimination against African-American farmers in the late twentieth century. The government's settlement of nearly $1 billion with more than 13,300 farmers was reportedly the largest civil rights claim to date.The 2008 Farm Bill provided for additional farmers to have their claims heard, as 70,000 had filed late in the original program. In 2010 the federal government made another $1.2 billion settlement in what is called Pigford II for outstanding claims.
Following long-standing concerns, black farmers joined a class action discrimination suit against the USDA filed in federal court in 1997.An attorney called it "the most organized, largest civil rights case in the history of the country." Also in 1997, black farmers from at least five states held protests in front of the USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Protests in front of the USDA were a strategy employed in later years as the black farmers sought to keep national attention focused on the plight of the black farmers. Representatives of the National Black Farmers Association met with President Bill Clinton and other administration officials at the White House. And NBFA's president testified before the United States House Committee on Agriculture.
In Pigford v. Glickman , U.S. Federal District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman approved the settlement and consent decree on April 14, 1999.The settlement recognized discrimination against 22,363 black farmers, but the NBFA would later call the agreement incomplete because more than 70,000 were excluded. Nevertheless, the settlement was deemed to be the largest-ever civil rights class action settlement in American history. Lawyers estimated the value of the settlement to be more than $2 billion. Some farmers would have their debts forgiven. Judge Friedman appointed a monitor to oversee the settlement. Farmers in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Georgia were among those affected by the settlement.
The NBFA's president was invited to testify before congress on this matter numerous times following the settlement, including before the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture on September 12, 2000, when he testified that many farmers had not yet received payments and others were left out of the settlement. It was later revealed that one DoJ staff "general attorney" was unlicensed while she was handling black farmers' cases.NBFA called for all those cases to be reheard. The Chicago Tribune reported in 2004 that the result of such longstanding USDA discrimination was that black farmers had been forced out of business at a rate three times faster than white farmers. In 1920, 1 in 7 U.S. farmers was African-American, and by 2004 the number was 1 in 100. USDA spokesman Ed Loyd, when acknowledging that the USDA loan process was unfair to minority farmers, had claimed it was hard to determine the effect on such farmers.
In 2006 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report highly critical of the USDA in its handling of the black farmers cases. [ citation needed ] As the organization was making headway by gathering Congressional supporters in 2007 it was revealed that some USDA Farm Services Agency employees were engaged in activities aimed at blocking Congressional legislation that would aid the black farmers. President Barack Obama, then a U.S. Senator, lent his support to the black farmers' issues in 2007. A bill co-sponsored by Obama passed the Senate in 2007.NBFA continued to lobby Congress to provide relief. NBFA's Boyd secured congressional support for legislation that would provide $100 million in funds to settle late-filer cases. In 2006 a bill was introduced into the House of Representatives and later the Senate by Senator George Felix Allen. In 2007 Boyd testified before the United States House Committee on the Judiciary about this legislation.
In early June 2008 hundreds of black farmers, denied a chance to have their cases heard in the Pigford settlement, filed a new lawsuit against USDA.The Senate and House versions of the black farmers bill, reopening black farmers discrimination cases, became law in June 2008. Some news reports said that the new law could affect up to 74,000 black farmers. In October 2008, the GAO issued a report criticizing the USDA's handling of discrimination complaints. The GAO recommended an oversight review board to examine civil rights complaints.
After numerous public rallies and an intensive NBFA member lobbying effort, Congress approved and Obama signed into law in December 2010 legislation that set aside $1.15 billion to resolve the outstanding black farmers cases. [ citation needed ] As of 2013, 90,000 African-American, Hispanic, female and Native American farmers had filed claims. It was reported that some had been found fraudulent, or transparently bogus. In Maple Hill, North Carolina by 2013, the number of successful claimants was four times the number of farms with 1 out of 9 African-Americans being paid, while "claimants were not required [by the USDA] to present documentary evidence that they had been unfairly treated or had even tried to farm." Lack of documentation is an issue complicated by the USDA practice of discarding denied applications after three years.NBFA's John W. Boyd, Jr., attended the bill-signing ceremony at the White House.
Important legislation setting policy of the USDA includes the:[ citation needed ]
...claimants were not required to present documentary evidence that they had been unfairly treated or had even tried to farm.
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The United States secretary of agriculture is the head of the United States Department of Agriculture. The secretary is former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue. Perdue took office on April 25, 2017 after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate by an 87–11 vote. The position carries similar responsibilities to those of agriculture ministers in other governments.
An agricultural subsidy is a government incentive paid to agribusinesses, agricultural organizations and farms to supplement their income, manage the supply of agricultural commodities, and influence the cost and supply of such commodities. Examples of such commodities include: wheat, feed grains, cotton, milk, rice, peanuts, sugar, tobacco, oilseeds such as soybeans and meat products such as beef, pork, and lamb and mutton.
The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is the United States Department of Agriculture agency that was formed by merging the farm loan portfolio and staff of the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) and the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS). The Farm Service Agency implements agricultural policy, administers credit and loan programs, and manages conservation, commodity, disaster and farm marketing programs through a national network of offices. The Administrator of FSA reports to the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm Production and Conservation. The current Administrator is Richard Fordyce. The FSA of each state is led by a politically appointed State Executive Director (SED).
In the United States, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly yet still commonly known as the Food Stamp Program, is a federal program that provides food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people. It is a federal aid program, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture under the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), though benefits are distributed by specific departments of U.S. states.
The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) is a wholly owned United States government corporation that was created in 1933 to "stabilize, support, and protect farm income and prices". The CCC is authorized to buy, sell, lend, make payments, and engage in other activities for the purpose of increasing production, stabilizing prices, assuring adequate supplies, and facilitating the efficient marketing of agricultural commodities.
Food policy is the area of public policy concerning how food is produced, processed, distributed, purchased, or provided. Food policies are designed to influence the operation of the food and agriculture system balanced with ensuring human health needs. This often includes decision-making around production and processing techniques, marketing, availability, utilization and consumption of food, in the interest of meeting or furthering social objectives. Food policy can be promulgated on any level, from local to global, and by a government agency, business, or organization. Food policymakers engage in activities such as regulation of food-related industries, establishing eligibility standards for food assistance programs for the poor, ensuring safety of the food supply, food labeling, and even the qualifications of a product to be considered organic.
In different administrative and organizational forms, the Food for Peace program of the United States has provided food assistance around the world for more than 50 years. Approximately 3 billion people in 150 countries have benefited directly from U.S. food assistance. The Office of Food for Peace within the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the U.S. Government's largest provider of overseas food assistance. The food assistance programming is funded primarily through the Food for Peace Act. The Office of Food for Peace also receives International Disaster Assistance Funds through the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) that can be used in emergency settings.
In the United States, the farm bill is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government. The comprehensive omnibus bill is renewed every 5 years or so and deals with both agriculture and all other affairs under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture. Congress is involved in overseeing the implementation of farm bills as well as being responsible for developing and enacting the legislation.
The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 was a $288 billion, five-year agricultural policy bill that was passed into law by the United States Congress on May 22, 2008. The bill was a continuation of the 2002 Farm Bill. It continues the United States' long history of agricultural subsidies as well as pursuing areas such as energy, conservation, nutrition, and rural development. Some specific initiatives in the bill include increases in Food Stamp benefits, increased support for the production of cellulosic ethanol, and money for the research of pests, diseases and other agricultural problems.
The agricultural policy of the United States is composed primarily of the periodically renewed federal U.S. farm bills. The Farm Bills have a rich history which initially sought to provide income and price support to US farmers and prevent them from adverse global as well as local supply and demand shocks. This implied an elaborate subsidy program which supports domestic production by either direct payments or through price support measures. The former incentivizes farmers to grow certain crops which are eligible for such payments through environmentally conscientious practices of farming. The latter protects farmers from vagaries of price fluctuations by ensuring a minimum price and fulfilling their shortfalls in revenue upon a fall in price. Lately, there are other measures through which the government encourages crop insurance and pays part of the premium for such insurance against various unanticipated outcomes in agriculture.
The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) is a non-profit organization representing African American farmers and their families in the United States. As an association, it serves tens of thousands of members nationwide. NBFA's education and advocacy efforts have been focused on civil rights, land retention, access to public and private loans, education and agricultural training, and rural economic development for black and other small farmers.
Pigford v. Glickman (1999) was a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), alleging racial discrimination against African-American farmers in its allocation of farm loans and assistance between 1981 and 1996. The lawsuit was settled on April 14, 1999, by Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. To date, almost US$1 billion has been paid or credited to more than 13,300 farmers under the settlement's consent decree, under what is reportedly the largest civil rights settlement to date. As another 70,000 farmers had filed late and not had their claims heard, the 2008 Farm Bill provided for additional claims to be heard. In December 2010, Congress appropriated $1.2 billion for what is called Pigford II, settlement for the second part of the case.
Shirley Sherrod is a former Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture. On July 19, 2010, she became a subject of controversy when parts of a speech she gave were publicized by Breitbart News, and she was forced to resign. However, upon review of the complete unedited video in context, the NAACP, White House officials, and Tom Vilsack, the United States Secretary of Agriculture, apologized for the firing and Sherrod was offered a new position.
New Communities was a 5,700-acre (23 km2) land trust and farm collective owned and operated by approximately a dozen black farm farmers from 1969 to 1985. Once one of the largest-acreage African American-owned properties in the United States, it was situated in Southwest Georgia.
Alexander J. Pires Jr. is an American lawyer and entrepreneur. He is Portuguese; both sides of his family came from the village of Madalena do Mar on the island of Madeira.
The role of African Americans in the agricultural history of the United States includes roles as the main work force when they were enslaved on cotton and tobacco plantations in the Antebellum South. After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863-1865 most stayed in farming as very poor sharecroppers, who rarely owned land. They began the Great Migration to cities in the mid-20th century. About 40,000 are farmers today.
Wheat is produced in almost every state in the United States, and is the principal cereal grain grown in the country. The type and quantity vary between regions. The US is ranked third in production volume of wheat, with almost 58 million tons produced in the 2012–2013 growing season, behind only China and India. The US is ranked first in crop export volume; almost 50% of its total wheat production is exported.
The Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013, also commonly referred to as "the farm bill," is one of two United States "farm bills" that were introduced in the 113th United States Congress. The Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 is the bill that was introduced into the United States Senate. A second bill, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 was introduced into the United States House of Representatives. The two bills cover similar topics and programs, but have significantly different provisions. The Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 passed the Senate on June 10, 2013 and has received the support of the President.
The Agricultural Act of 2014, formerly the "Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013", is an act of Congress that authorizes nutrition and agriculture programs in the United States for the years of 2014-2018. The bill authorizes $956 billion in spending over the next ten years.
The 2018 farm bill or Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 is United States legislation that reauthorized many expenditures in the prior United States farm bill: the Agricultural Act of 2014. The $867 billion reconciled farm bill was passed by the Senate on December 11, 2018, and by the House on December 12. On December 20, 2018, it received President Donald Trump's signature and became law.