Department of Agriculture
In 2009, the USDA will spend about $95 billion, according to budget estimates, and it's not just about agriculture. In addition to subsidies to ranchers and farmers, the agency handles nutrition, school lunches, promoting exports, WIC, ag research, soil and water conservation, managing the national forests, marketing commodities domestically, inspecting food, rural development, preparing against Avian flu and developing renewable energy sources such as biofuels.
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Wahington, DC 20250
The subsidies, which were about $81 billion from 2004-2008, generate the most controversy, especially when the farm bill is up for debate. Although Congress rewrites it every few years, the lobbying starts early and the work usually runs long.
Here is a synopsis of the types of subsidy programs, from a USDA publication:
- Fixed income transfers (sometimes referred to as "decoupled payments") do not depend on the farmer's production choices, output levels, or market conditions. These include production flexibility contract and fixed direct payments. They cover subsidized “program” crops such as wheat, corn, cotton and rice.
- Marketing loan and other miscellaneous program benefits augment market receipts when commodity prices are low and depend on the farmer's production and market conditions. These include loan deficiency payments.
- Ad hoc and emergency payments compensate eligible farmers for economic or natural disasters. These include crop disaster payments, dairy indemnity and market loss payments, livestock compensation and emergency assistance payments, among others.
- Conservation payments reimburse participating farmers for all or part of the cost of implementing conservation practices. These include Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Wetland Reserve Program, and Environmental Quality Incentive Program payments, among others.
For a complete glossary of terms: www.ers.usda.gov/Features/FarmBill/2002glossary.htm
Mad cow, aka Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE
If a case turns up in your state, you will need to plug into the USDA's Chief Veterinary Officer and his staff, which is the federal office in charge of investigating. They are part of the USDA'S Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). This issue is also related to a national animal identification system that is in the works. A website with a primer about the disease and contact names and numbers:http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/hot_issues/bse/index.shtml
A 1999 consent decree was designed to compensate black farmers who were denied loans for discriminatory reasons. While the USDA did not admit fault, the decree has paid out or forgiven loans worth about $900 million over the years. The terms of the decree continue to be a source of controversy, especially among farmers who have again been denied assistance.
Website with up to date statistics on the Pigford settlement for black farmers:
Overview on every facet of agriculture
U.S. House Committee on Agriculture
The committee has a handy searchable glossary of ag terms at http://agriculture.house.gov/info/glossary.html
U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI
Ranking Member Pat Roberts, R-KS
Mace Thornton, deputy director, public relations
Phyllis Brown, assistant director, public relations
Tracy Taylor Grondine, director, media relations
Find a full staff directory with phone numbers and
email addresses at
The Farm Bureau has affiliates in all 50 states, many of whom also have representatives in Washington. Here is a link to the state by state info: www.fb.org/state/
National Farmers Union (www.nfu.org)
Represents small and family farms; more liberal, populist than the Farm Bureau.
Roger Johnson, president
Melisa Augusto, director of communications
Does this agency's information need updating? firstname.lastname@example.org
USDA key staff
Secretary Tom Vilsack
John Norris, chief of staff
Carole Jett, deputy chief of staff
Office of Communications
Chris Mather, director, Office of Communications
Jim Brownlee, assistant director for public affairs
Larry Quinn, assistant director for communications operations
Nayyera Haq, press secretary
Angela Harless, communications coordinator - avian influenza/disease/marketing & regulatory programs/homeland security
Jerry Redding, communications coordinator for food safety & nutrition
Full USDA employee directory: http://dc-directory.hqnet.usda.gov/pdf/usda_dc_agency.pdf