USDA taking comments on trade program

Legislative Watch: RAPP similar to Agricultural Trade Promotion; USDA postpones pork line speeds decision; confirmation hearing for new Rural Development head.

Eric Bohl

December 1, 2023

3 Min Read
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From now through Dec. 18, USDA is accepting public comments on a proposed trade promotion effort. The Regional Agricultural Promotion Program will be funded by the Commodity Credit Corporation and will help U.S. producers expand opportunities to sell their products in foreign markets. Comments on RAPP can be submitted through USDA’s website.

RAPP was developed in response to a request by Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member John Boozman (R-Ark.) to bolster existing trade promotion programs. USDA plans to spend $1.4 billion from the CCC, a USDA fund established in 1933 to promote commodities and markets for agricultural goods.

In the first year of the program, USDA plans to spend up to $300 million through awards to organizations like cooperatives, state departments of agriculture and agricultural commodity groups. The new program will be functionally similar to the Trump administration’s Agricultural Trade Promotion program.

In the debate over the upcoming farm bill, ag groups have placed a high priority on expanding funding for the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program. The two programs have been stagnant for over 15 years, with flat funding levels of $200 million for MAP and $34.5 million for FMD annually. RAPP will supplement MAP and FMD to further expand market opportunities.

USDA postpones final decision on pork line speeds

A much-anticipated decision by USDA has been postponed up to an additional 90 days. Six swine processing facilities have participated in a two-year trial program to increase slaughter line speeds. USDA was expected to decide this week whether to end the program or expand it to more facilities.

Rather than make an up-or-down determination, USDA chose to extend the pilot project for about three months while the Food Safety and Inspection Service collects more data on the impact on workers. The plants, located in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Pennsylvania, have been implementing the program under the supervision of FSIS and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Pork processors see the pilot program as an opportunity to more efficiently produce a higher quantity of meat and increase overall industry capacity. Worker safety advocates have raised concerns that higher line speeds could increase injuries. 

Senate holds confirmation hearing for new Rural Development head

On Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a confirmation hearing for Basil Ivanhoe Gooden to become the new Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development. The post has been vacant since Xochitl Torres Small was confirmed in July as USDA Deputy Secretary.

The hearing, which also considered a nominee to the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, lasted more than an hour and a half. The committee must now vote to approve Gooden to the position, an action that is expected to take place next week. USDA Rural Development oversees many programs benefitting rural America, including wastewater treatment facilities, community buildings and broadband internet.

“If I have the honor of being confirmed, I will work with my Rural Development colleagues to implement the priorities of ensuring our program applications are easier for our customers to access and complete, modernizing Rural Development to better use technology to streamline our work, supporting and investing in our extraordinary workforce and strengthening our partnerships to better deliver and leverage resources throughout rural America,” Gooden said. “Through these priorities, we’ll continue our work in advancing racial justice, equity, and rural prosperity; strengthening the food supply chain; advancing our clean energy programs; and creating more and better markets for farmers, ranchers and rural business.”

About the Author(s)

Eric Bohl

Eric Bohl is an agricultural policy leader with extensive experience on Capitol Hill. He served six years as Chief of Staff to Congressman Jason Smith (R-MO) and Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), and previously served as Legislative Director to Rep. Hartzler. During that time, he led her work on the House Agriculture Committee and was influential in efforts to craft the 2014 Farm Bill, as well as handling environmental, energy, transportation and infrastructure, and agricultural trade issues.

Eric’s experience starts at the ground level. His family has deep roots in both animal and row-crop farming going back several generations. This understanding of the unique challenges real farmers face brings valuable perspective to help solve clients’ needs. His midwestern values also allow him to build meaningful relationships with people on both sides of the political aisle and find common-sense solutions that transcend partisan lines.

This approach has continued to be the cornerstone of Eric’s career in grassroots advocacy. He served more than five years as Director of Public Affairs and Advocacy for Missouri Farm Bureau. He was a senior member of the organization’s legislative team and led communications and coalition advocacy efforts, including on the 2018 Farm Bill. His writings on agriculture and rural policy have been published in newspapers across the nation. He serves as First Vice President of the St. Louis Agribusiness Club and is a board member of the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City, two of the nation’s largest and strongest organizations supporting agribusinesses.

Before his career in public policy, Eric was a practicing attorney for nearly five years, focusing on real estate and agricultural law, commercial transactions, and commercial litigation. Eric earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Missouri, graduating from both programs with honors, and served as the Managing Editor of the Missouri Law Review.

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