The Field Report: More Money for School Food

More Money for School Food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it is investing $750 million in school meal programs by allowing schools to use higher reimbursement rates usually reserved for summer meals to help food service directors meet the ongoing challenges of the pandemic. It estimates that schools will be reimbursed an additional 25 cents per lunch, which is significant, especially at a time when food service directors are still struggling to feed students due to rising food costs, labor shortages, supply chain issues, and ongoing COVID outbreaks that keep staff and children home from school. Advocacy groups applauded the decision. “First, it will help bolster the purchasing power of our nation’s schools, allowing them to stretch their budgets during these uncertain times. Second, at a time when families continue to face financial strain and hardship, this will give them fewer meal expenses to worry about each day,” Lisa Davis, a senior vice president at Share Our Strength, said in a statement.

Read More:
What New York City Schools Learned Feeding Millions During the Pandemic
As School Meal Programs Go Broke, a Renewed Call for Universal Free Lunch

Conservation Programs That Prioritize Climate? In other USDA news, the agency also announced updates to its conservation programs, which pay farmers for environmental stewardship. The biggest is a special $38 million cover crop initiative through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which has a a goal of “doubling the number of corn and soybean acres using cover crops to 30 million acres by 2030.” The initiative will target 11 states and involves a partnership with “Farmers For Soil Health,” an industry initiative of the United Soybean Board, National Corn Growers Association, and National Pork Board. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack debuted the program in a speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

While EQIP pays farmers for a wide range of practices, advocates for a more climate-resilient food system have long pushed for the USDA to target and prioritize funding practices with clear climate benefits rather than commodity crops. A report late last month showed that the USDA in 2019 overpaid U.S. corn farmers by $3 billion as part of the reimbursement for former president Trump’s trade war with China, and a 2021 study found a very small sliver of the program’s funding was being used to boost soil health. It’s also worth noting that even this relatively ambitious goal from the USDA is a drop in the bucket when compared to what needs to be done to improve soil health at a scale that will enable farmers to build up their defenses against extreme weather. In 2021, the USDA estimated that U.S. farmers planted a combined 180 million acres of corn and soybeans.

Read More:
Why Aren’t USDA Conservation Programs Paying Farmers More to Improve Their Soil?
Dust Is a Growing Problem. What Role Does Farmland Play?
Two States Are Leading a Cover Crop Revival

More Monsanto Legal Drama. Over the past few years, Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) has faced many lawsuits over whether its flagship weedkiller, Roundup, causes cancer. This week, the company was in court in Hawaii for a different reason. According to the Associated Press, Monsanto was charged with 30 environmental crimes for allowing workers to go into fields that had recently been sprayed with a product called Forfeit 280. Its active ingredient is glufosinate, another broad-spectrum herbicide that has been in high demand as herbicides such as glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) and paraquat come under fire. The company pled guilty to the charges.

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