Radical Changes Coming in USDA: FSA Administrator Talks About Marching Orders from Equity Commission Report

USDA's Equity Commission recently recommended sweeping changes across the entire government agency. One of its more than 30 recommendations includes transforming the Farm Service Agency into "a customer service organization that provides equitable treatment for all."  

What kind of changes can we expect to see from the top to the county levels of the agency? Farm Service Agency Administrator and South Dakota producer Zach Ducheneaux served on the Equity Commission. It's unfortunate it took an equity commission report to help surface some of these issues, Ducheneaux says. However, Secretary Vilsack has been clear about acknowledging the inequities of past as a starting place to doing things better and different in the future.

Ducheneaux says a large part of their marching orders from the equity commission report involve better outreach to those who haven't been exposed to the opportunities the department offers.

"We'd already started to engage more meaningfully with our cooperators in those spaces, such as the Federation of Southern Farmers, Intertribal Agriculture Council, National Young Farmers Coalition, Farmer Veteran Coalition and various women farmers groups, to ensure they're getting the message at the same tempo as those who have a well-established relationship with the department," Ducheneaux says.

Despite talk in the country, he says USDA has no intention of eliminating the county committees and actually can't by statute. However, he says the committees have created victims of discrimination that mandate change. 

"Ensuring there is equitable representation on the county committees is important not only for our historically underserved populations based on race, ethnicity and gender, but also our organic producers. Our specialty crop growers are growing a movement around urban ag," Ducheneaux says. "We've got to make sure we've got adequate representation if we're going to properly deliver our programs on behalf of the taxpayers."  

One Washington insider says the report will give USDA more leverage, even in areas such as loan programs for underserved farmers, which recently drew legal action. 

"I think USDA has a good bit of discretion in their loan programs after they were trounced down once by the court saying you can't just help black farmers who might have been hurt. You have to help everybody. I still think there's a whole lot of discretion," says Mary Kay Thatcher, senior manager of federal government and industry relations with Syngenta. "It could be that USDA can move forward on some of those without really having to have congressional approval."  

Thatcher predicts some in Congress will also take recommendations from the report and offer changes in the farm bill, including a push by Rep. David Scott for additional funding for the 1890 colleges.

The Equity Commission will publish a final report, which will also include recommendations from its Rural Community Economic Development Subcommittee, by the end of 2023.  



Latest News

Is There Anything New from the Latest Farm Bill Debate?

We need to know the final funding level in the debt limit debate before there are can be any attempt to mix and match farm bill titles and funds.

Big Oil is Teaming Up With Big Ag, And it Could Turn Cover Crops Into the New Cash Crop for Farmers

Renewable diesel is revving up interest from both agriculture and the oil industry, and now oil and agriculture companies are teaming up to find additional crop sources to fuel the growing demand.

Tyson Foods Plant Closure Raises Antitrust Concerns Among U.S. Farmers and Experts

Tyson Foods gave its chicken suppliers two months' notice of its plan to shut a Virginia processing plant in May, raising concerns among farmers and legal experts about Tyson's compliance with antitrust regulations.

The Scoop Podcast: Overcome Barriers, Instill Confidence, and Improve Performance

Tim McArdle is working as the ResponsibleAg Industry Ambassador. He highlights how ResponsbileAg is an industry program for the industry that “lights the way for you to be in compliance.”

Southern States: Rebuilding for The Next 100 Years

This year marks the cooperative’s 100th year in business. And as Steve Becraft describes, there’s more to celebrate than the centennial milestone.

The Carbon Games: Agricultural Producers Still Looking for the Leaderboard

“What we need to do to move carbon past the starting line is to show farmers the scoreboard and tell them exactly what they need to do to earn their points,” said Mitchell Hora.