USDA announces initiatives benefiting North Carolina’s agricultural sector

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks during a meeting with farmers, meat processors and business owners, Thursday, June 29, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. Smaller meat and poultry operators in 17 states will receive $115 million in grants, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled a series of initiatives last week with significant implications for North Carolina’s farmers. These measures aim to bolster the nation’s agricultural sector, from providing financial relief to those affected by natural disasters to launching a pilot program designed to address workforce challenges.

On September 27, the USDA announced the disbursement of over $1.75 billion in emergency relief payments to eligible farmers and livestock producers. This funding is intended to aid those affected by natural disasters that occurred in 2020, 2021, and 2022. North Carolina, with its diverse agricultural landscape, is among the states expected to benefit significantly from this relief.

A substantial portion of this relief, over $581 million, is allocated for the Emergency Livestock Relief Program (ELRP) to provide 2021 and 2022 drought and wildfire emergency relief. Additionally, the Emergency Relief Program (ERP) will deliver more than $1.17 billion in crop disaster assistance payments.

North Carolina’s organic dairy industry received a boost on September 26 when the USDA announced a second round of payments through the Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program (ODMAP). This additional $5 million aims to help organic dairy producers, including those in North Carolina, navigate challenges like market volatility and rising costs. With the first round of ODMAP payments disbursing $15 million, the total support now stands at $20 million.

“This program is critical to keeping small, organic dairies sustainable as they continue to weather a combination of challenges outside of their control,” said Bob Etheridge, FSA State Executive Director in North Carolina. “The funding from ODMAP will give organic dairy producers additional economic support to stay in operation until markets return to more favorable conditions.”

The USDA’s announcement of the Farm Labor Stabilization and Protection Pilot Program (FLSP Program) on September 22 has potential benefits for North Carolina’s agricultural workforce. Backed by up to $65 million from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, this program aims to bolster the resilience of the food and agricultural supply chain, with a focus on addressing labor shortages and enhancing working conditions.

“Our country is facing growing agriculture workforce challenges that jeopardize our farmers’ ability to be competitive, threatens the resiliency, abundance and safety of our food system, and has repercussions on our overall economy,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “At the same time, record numbers of people are interested in living and working in the United States, including from Northern Central America.”