IA Times, October 2020

Continuing priorities: Agricultural innovation & coronavirus relief

As I write this update, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg just passed away, and Congress, specifically the Senate, is preparing for a political war over whether or not to confirm a new Supreme Court justice before the Nov. 3 election. I mention this not because the Irrigation Association has a position on the confirmation of Supreme Court justices, but rather as an example of just how fast the focus of our legislative bodies can change. Nine months ago, the coronavirus was something that we would hear about in passing when the news would report on the happenings in China. Now, we are in a position of being 40 days from a presidential election, with Congress still needing to agree on funding the government and additional COVID-19 relief legislation.

However, as these topics continue to dominate the headline news, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working on several initiatives that directly affect agricultural irrigation.

First, the USDA continues to press forward with its department-wide Agriculture Innovation Agenda, which aligns the USDA’s resources, programs and research to provide farmers with the tools they need and to position American agriculture as a leader in the effort to meet the food, fiber, fuel, feed and climate demands of the future. Specifically, the USDA will stimulate innovation so that American agriculture can achieve the goal of increasing U.S. agricultural production by 40% while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050. The first step of the USDA in developing the agenda is the identification of “ready-to-go technologies and practices to achieve the USDA’s goal of increasing agricultural production by 40% to meet global population needs in 2050 while cutting U.S. agriculture’s environmental footprint in half.” The Irrigation Association is both working with coalition partners and leading the discussion relating to on-farm water use and the benefits of efficient irrigation technologies. Focusing on productivity, profit and conservation, the IA’s comments will identify numerous opportunities for farmers to succeed, while preserving our nation’s natural resources.

Comments are due to the USDA by Nov. 9, 2020. More information about the agenda can be found by visiting www.usda.gov/aia.

In addition to promoting innovation as solutions relating to productivity and conservation, the USDA also announced the availability of additional direct assistance to farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus. Since the beginning of the pandemic in the United States, the agricultural industry, while resilient, was hit hard. The USDA announced several relief programs earlier this summer, with the newest one announced in September. This relief plan adds an additional $14 million to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, while incorporating improvements based from stakeholder engagement and public feedback to better meet the needs of impacted farmers and ranchers.

The IA has been working closely with Congress and the USDA in support of expanding and streamlining the relief programs for our nation’s farmers and ranchers. Producers could apply for assistance under this new CFAP program beginning Sept. 21. Applications will be accepted through Dec. 11. Additional information and application forms can be found at www.farmers.gov/cfap.

Finally, as part of the IA’s framework for economic recovery, investment in our nation’s aging water infrastructure is identified as a top priority. On Sept. 14, Rep. John Garamendi (D-California) introduced a bipartisan bill titled, the “WIFIA Improvement Act” (HR 8217). This legislation amends the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014 to make public water projects like the off-stream Sites Reservoir Project eligible for low-interest, longer-term federal loans from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Specifically, the bill would allow water projects with longer useful lifecycles like Sites Reservoir to receive federal WIFIA financing for 55-year loan terms instead of the current 35-year loan terms, thereby lowering the capital costs for such projects. The IA will continue to support access to capital to invest in these types of much-needed water infrastructure improvements throughout the United States.