President Joe Biden will on Wednesday announce actions by the Agriculture Department to boost production of wheat and other food crops, pivoting quickly after lawmakers scrapped a $500 million White House crop proposal in a Ukraine aid bill.
Biden is expected to detail three administrative actions during a visit to a farm in Kankakee, Ill., that he says will help lower domestic food prices by boosting production and increase agricultural exports, thereby increasing farmers’ revenue and supporting jobs in farm and rural communities.
The Agriculture Department will remove restrictions in up to 681 counties on crop insurance coverage for double cropping, a practice that allows farmers to plant successive and different crops on the same land. A common double cropping combination is to plant wheat followed by soybeans in the same year, after the wheat is harvested.
More than 1,200 counties now have insurable double cropping, and a White House fact sheet said easing restrictions could bring the total to 1,935 counties.
The department also will double funding, from $250 million to $500 million, for an effort to spur more domestic production of fertilizer. Already rising before the war in Ukraine, fertilizer costs have surged since the conflict began. Russia is a major producer of phosphate fertilizer.
Prices of supplies from Russia began rising in 2021 after the International Trade Commission found that subsidized phosphate fertilizer imports from Russia and Morocco injured domestic producers. The U.S. levied tariffs on imports after the finding.
The American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council of America, National Sorghum Producers and the Agricultural Retailers Association are challenging the ITC’s decision at the U.S. Court of International Trade, arguing that tariffs are fueling the spike in phosphate fertilizer prices.
The cost of fertilizer is a top complaint among farmers and lawmakers with farm constituents.
Biden also will call on farmers to tap the Agriculture Department’s research and technical assistance network for help in managing fertilizer use through precision agriculture and other means. The department will do outreach to growers and use cost-sharing programs to reduce the expense for farmers of adopting new practices, or expanding their use.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack foreshadowed Biden’s decision to use the administration’s authority to push ahead with a crop production plan during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and in comments after the hearing.
Vilsack raised the possibility of using administrative flexibility to encourage greater domestic production hours before House appropriators released a $40 billion supplemental aid bill for Ukraine that did not include White House proposals to raise loan marketing assistance rates for several crops, ease crop insurance penalties for raising two different insured crops in succession on the same land and provide additional crop insurance premium subsidies to encourage production of soybeans.
The House passed the aid bill Tuesday.
Vilsack mentioned the possibility of increasing the number of counties where farmers who double crops could get crop insurance and cited the department's work with farmers on crop choices and conservation practices that reduce fertilizer use.