The final general session of the 2023 edition of CattleCon in New Orleans featured a rock star of the Ag Department: Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, deputy secretary of the USDA. She presented her remarks on the beef business in Washington, D.C., before being asked follow-up questions from Ethan Lane, vice president of government affairs with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“New Orleans is known for celebration but also resilience – and that’s a great reason for us to meet here,” Bronaugh began. “When we work together, there is absolutely nothing, nothing we cannot do. We believe by creating new, more and better markets … we create better communities.”

She said the USDA is working toward those goals by expanding processing facilities, as both they and the department are dedicated to meeting demand and ensuring American agriculture “remains on the move.”

Bronaugh then dove into how the Partnership for Climate Smart Commodities means $3.1 billion is being invested to expand markets for America’s commodities that are being grown in a more environmentally-friendly and ecologically-conscious way, to leverage the greenhouse gas benefits of climate smart commodity production and to provide direct, meaningful benefits to production agriculture, including for small and underserved producers.

One example she mentioned specifically of interest to cattle producers is a project being undertaken by the University of Tennessee that’s focused on improving grasslands for grazing.

Lane asked her what the real impact of the partnership will be. “This was one of the few opportunities that came out of USDA that didn’t make everybody mad,” Bronaugh joked. “It can positively impact all sizes of producers. We gotta continue the effort. The problem won’t go away unless we address it.”

What the Deputy Ag Secretary shines a light on

Deputy Ag Secretary Jewel Bronaugh spoke with NCBA VP Ethan Lane on a wide variety of topics including rural broadband access, foreign animal disease, international trade and sustainability. Photo by Courtney Llewellyn

Another problem she addressed was the threat of diseases that could impact livestock. “The goal is to keep foreign animal disease out of this country,” she stated. She noted that the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank exists if a disease – such as the concerning foot-and-mouth disease – should reach our country’s shores. The National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program is also dedicated to preventing and preparing. Bronaugh said she’s proud of the reach of these programs.

“Protecting your cattle means little if we can’t supply the products – it’s crucial we have a supply chain that’s dependable,” she stated.

“We know some diseases are not an if but a when,” Lane added.

Providing producers with essential knowledge is also something USDA is focused on, and Bronaugh noted easy access to that knowledge is critical. She said the Cattle Contracts Library Pilot Program provides transparency for cattle producers, illuminating what is the largest part of the market to create better opportunities.

“It will lead to more choices and fair outcomes for producers, consumers and everyone in between,” Bronaugh said of the program.

Continuing to expand high-speed internet access is another way to give farmers all the tools they need to thrive. “We need to close the digital divide for key and critical decisions,” Bronaugh emphasized. “We have been able to invest with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to reach that ‘last mile’ with our ReConnect program.”

The ReConnect Loan and Grant Program furnishes loans and grants to provide funds for the costs of construction, improvement or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.

Much of this ties into the crafting of the new Farm Bill, which Bronaugh said “impacts everyone in this country. It helps us invest in vital infrastructure. It allows us to create a more circular economy … The time has ended where we just extract from rural economies.” One of her goals is to help build them back up.

“From creating more, new and better markets that allow producers to increase their bottom line to mitigating the spread of foreign animal disease to deploying every tool in our toolbox to enhance competition in agricultural markets to investing in the rural communities many farmers and ranchers call home, USDA is committed to ensuring farmers and ranchers have every opportunity to succeed,” Bronaugh concluded.

by Courtney Llewellyn