President Joe Biden, second from left, visits the farm of Jeff O’Connor, right, of Kankakee, Illinois on May 11, 2022. Also shown are Illinois Rep. Robin Kelly, right, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. (White House photo)
At an Illinois farm on Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced federal assistance to alleviate costs for farmers and consumers and ensure there is enough food to meet world demand as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues.
Biden said he will double the recently announced federal funding to boost domestic fertilizer production. He also pledged to extend crop insurance coverage for farmers who grow two crops in one field in the same year — a riskier practice known as double cropping.
“You feed America,” Biden said of farmers. “You got us through the pandemic, and you’re literally the backbone of our country. That’s not hyperbole. But you also feed the world, and we’re seeing with Putin’s war in Ukraine, you’re like the backbone of freedom.”
The invasion launched by Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, in February has put about 20 million tons of Ukrainian wheat at risk of not reaching the world market, which Biden said could be devastating for certain countries. Ukraine is a top producer of wheat, and the fighting has also interfered with spring planting, he said.
“If those tons (of wheat) don’t get to market, an awful lot of people in Africa are going to starve to death,” Biden said.
Gains from double cropping come with risks
Double cropping wheat and soybeans has the potential to boost domestic wheat production. It involves planting winter wheat in the fall and harvesting it near the beginning of summer, after which soybeans are planted. However, that leaves a smaller-than-normal period of time for the soybean plants to mature.
Iowa State researchers studied the production methods over two growing seasons a few years ago and found that a tweak of double cropping known as relay intercropping — when soybeans are planted before the wheat is harvested, and the wheat is harvested before the emerging soybean plants reach a certain height — has potential in Iowa.
However: “Double cropping soybean following a small grain is very high risk because of much lower soybean yield potential,” according to a summary report of that research.
In one of those test plots for one of the years, the soybean crop was a total loss because it did not reach maturity.
Hence Biden’s plan to expand crop insurance coverage for the practice. Farmers in about 1,250 counties currently qualify, and Biden wants to boost that number by about 54%, according to a Wednesday press release from the White House.
Jeff O’Connor, the Kankakee, Illinois, farmer who hosted Biden, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Illinois, on Wednesday, is well-versed in the production method. He said it can have conservation benefits, too.
“The farming community stands ready to maximize production, which we do so well, in this time of world need,” O’Connor said.
Biden plan would double grant program for fertilizer production
Biden also announced an additional $250 million for a new grant program for domestic fertilizer production. That doubles the initial amount announced in March.
The program is meant to support new, independent fertilizer entrepreneurs who use methods that are more friendly to the environment. The first grant awards are expected by year’s end.
“It’s critical to get this done,” Biden said.
The Biden administration also said Wednesday it hopes to get more farmers involved in existing federal programs to expand precision agriculture, which can make fertilizer usage more efficient in an effort to reduce the demands for the products.
Biden and Vilsack said they are further supporting farmers by expanding export opportunities, allowing a wider availability of ethanol fuel blends in the summer months, and by scrutinizing the business practices of the four major meatpackers who have made record profits amid soaring meat prices for consumers and dwindling profits for small livestock producers. The administration has also pledged money to boost the number of smaller meat processors.
“Farmers need a fair price and consumers need a fair price,” Vilsack said, “and that’s why it’s important to expand capacity and competition.”
Biden was optimistic that the efforts would help stabilize and reduce the costs for food and fuel. A new Consumer Price Index report on Wednesday showed that inflation was tamer in April than it was in March — partly due to a reduction in gasoline prices — but that consumer costs were still more than 8% higher than a year ago.
“We’re the only nation in the world — the only nation in the world — that has come out of every crisis stronger than we went into it,” Biden said. “Every single time, regardless of what it was.”
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