Efforts Around Climate Change, Equity to Sprout in Agri Industry – Arkansas Business Online


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Agriculture industry professionals are facing uncertainty after a changing of the guard in both the White House and on Capitol Hill, but what is certain is that they’ll hear more about pandemic aid, climate change and racial justice and equity, Sara Wyant said Wednesday. 

The president of Agri-Pulse Communications was a speaker for the Arkansas State University’s 27th annual Agribusiness Conference, which took place virtually this year.

Wyatt gave an overview of the industry’s $16.1 billion slice of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package under debate in Congress. 

If the bill becomes law:

  • “Socially disadvantaged farmers” would be eligible for payments worth 120% of their indebtedness on USDA loans.
  • $1 billion would go to community-based organizations and Black, Hispanic and Native American colleges and universities, to help them provide assistance with loans, financial training and heirs’ property issues. 
  • $4 billion would be spent on commodities, fresh produce, eggs, meat and dairy, including delivery by nonprofits and restaurants, including delivery through nonprofits and restaurants.
  • $500 million would address rural health care needs.
  • The 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits would be extended through September.
  • $800 million would go to the Food for Peace Program that purchases U.S. commodities for distribution to needy countries.
  • $100 million would go to small-scale meat and egg processors to offset pandemic-related safety measures.
  • $300 million would go for COVID-19 surveillance in animals.

Wyant said the agriculture community is unusually torn by the stimulus package, with many thinking the GOP was excluded from knowing much about or discussing it.

“This is a really comprehensive effort among the Democrats to act quickly,” she said.

Three Priorities

Wyant said the pandemic is one of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s three priorities. Vilsack, returning to the role he held during the Obama administration, also has climate change and racial justice and equity at the top of his to-do list.

Wyant said climate change priorities mean agriculture must be more productive with fewer resources. She said that’s going to happen regardless of what happens in Washington, because major companies like Walmart Inc. of Bentonville are looking toward sustainability in their supply chains.

“It makes it more difficult for agriculture to hit a target when it's moving between different companies. It's also very difficult for agriculture right now because we really lack consistent measurement,” she said. “We don't really have a plan for, how do we compensate farmers who may have been no-tilling for the last 20 years, and now I'm being asked to measure carbon from somebody who is probably third-generation versus somebody who's just starting.”

Unfortunately, Wyant said, more questions than answers are available right now on how climate policies are going to evolve. 

“There's going to be money moving around, regarding climate policy, but it may go to the middleman instead of actual folks … the farmers who are doing the work, and foresters are working on trees,” she said. “So there's a lot of difference of opinion on how this will play out.”

While her organization is watching carefully for incentives that may be offered for voluntary actions on climate, she thinks more regulations are likely.

Wyant said the industry must be more proactive on diversity and inclusion, and recruiting interns from diverse backgrounds is one way to do so. She recalled her own experience as a woman who broke the glass ceiling in 1995 by joining the senior management of an agri company.

“Just a couple weeks after I had joined the company, I heard one of the vice presidents remark to some other staffers that the only reason I got the job was because I was a female and, you know, those kinds of comments are hurtful and they're not productive,” she said. “I also knew that I had a lot of women in the industry who came up to me after I'd got that job and [said], ‘You know you really made a difference for all of us.’”

Wyant also spoke briefly about trade policy, which she said is a wait-and-see situation. Wyant doesn’t expect tariffs on China to be rescinded right away and noted that trade policy doesn’t seem to be a priority of the new administration.

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