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U.S. cuts red tape to increase food production, fill Ukraine gap, says Biden

Jeff O’Connor gave President Biden a firsthand introduction to double-cropping on his 800-acre Illinois farm on Wednesday and agreed with the president that America can help fill the gap in global food supplies created by the war in Ukraine. “We have the ability to raise two crops in one growing season while simultaneously providing conservation benefits,” said O’Connor. “The farming community stands ready to maximize production, which we do so well, in this time of world need.”

During a 15-minute speech on a hot afternoon, Biden described U.S. farmers as “the breadbasket of democracy” and announced three steps to expand farm production. “We’re reducing the red tape so it’s easier for farmers to conserve inputs and double-crop.”

In a specific step, the USDA would expand by more than 50% the number of counties where insurance is offered for double-cropping. Family farmers like Jeff and Gina O’Connor work on a tight schedule to harvest wheat in early summer and plant soybeans in time for a good yield in the fall.

If there’s bad weather or other trouble, “then the timing of everything is off,” said Biden. “But it’s a risk we need to take. That’s why my administration is looking at how to extend crop insurance coverage to give financial security to farmers like Jeff who practice double-cropping.”

The administration also will double, to $500 million, a new grant program for “independent, innovative, and sustainable American fertilizer production” as a remedy for high-priced fertilizers and a reliance on supplies from Russia, the world’s top fertilizer exporter. Finally, the USDA will streamline the application process for farmers seeking expert advice and cost-share funds to adopt precision agriculture techniques that tailor fertilizer, pesticide, and seed applications to the varying yield potential of land on a farm.

“It’s critical to get this done,” said Biden, referring to the project for more U.S. fertilizer production.

“Just think about it. Right now, America is fighting on two fronts. At home, it’s inflation and rising prices. Abroad, it’s helping Ukrainians defend their democracy and feeding those who are left hungry around the world because Russian atrocities exist.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who joined Biden for the visit to the O’Connor farm in Kankakee, 60 miles south of Chicago, will attend the G7 agriculture ministers meeting in Germany later this week. “They’re going to see what actions we can take to increase fertilizer suppliers globally, and identify how we can work together to prevent export restrictions on food and agricultural inputs and bring more global production to market, which will stabilize prices and bring more certainty to our farmers and keep people from dying of hunger,” said Biden.

Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, the senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the administration “is taking a positive step in announcing some measures that will spur double-cropping of select crops this fall and into 2023.” But it could do more to bring idled land into production, he said. “The reality is it will take years for the benefits of this proposal to be realized while a food crisis ensues.”

Ukraine and Russia are two of the world’s leading sources of wheat on the international market, and Ukraine is the top exporter of sunflower oil.

The White House fact sheet on double-cropping and crop insurance is available here.

The White House transcript of the president’s remarks at the O’Connor farm is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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