U.S. Department of Agriculture

Fall 2015 Statement of Regulatory Priorities

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management. The Department touches the lives of almost every American, every day. Our regulatory plan reflects that reality and reinforces our commitment to achieve results for everyone we serve.

The regulatory plan continues USDA efforts to implement several important pieces of legislation. The 2014 Farm Bill provides authorization for services and programs that impact every American and millions of people around the world. The new Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) allows USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, opportunity to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children.

To assist the country in addressing today's challenges, USDA has developed a regulatory plan consistent with five strategic goals that articulate the Department's priorities.

1. Assist rural communities to create prosperity so they are self-sustaining, re-populating, and economically thriving.

Rural America is home to a vibrant economy supported by nearly 50 million Americans. These Americans come from diverse backgrounds and work in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, services, government, and trade. Today, the country looks to rural America not only to provide food and fiber, but for crucial emerging economic opportunities such as renewable energy, broadband, and recreation. Many of the Nation's small businesses are located in rural communities and are the engine of job growth and an important source of innovation for the country. The economic vitality and quality of life in rural America depends on a healthy agricultural production system. Farmers and ranchers face a challenging global, technologically advanced, and competitive business environment. USDA works to ensure that producers are prosperous and competitive, have access to new markets, can manage their risks, and receive support in times of economic distress or weather-related disasters. Prosperous rural communities are those with adequate assets to fully support the well-being of community members. USDA helps to strengthen rural assets by building physical, human and social, financial, and natural capital.

Enhance rural prosperity, including leveraging capital markets to increase Government's investment in rural America.

USDA is committed to providing broadband to rural areas. Since 2009, USDA investments have delivered broadband service to 1.5 million households, businesses, schools, libraries and community facilities. These investments support the USDA goal to create thriving communities where people want to live and raise families. Consistent with these efforts, the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) published an interim rule on July 30, 2015, implementing Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program provisions included in section 6104 of the 2014 Farm Bill. The rule established two funding cycles to review and prioritize applications for the program. It also set a minimum level of acceptable broadband service at 4 megabits downstream and 1 megabit upstream. RUS is currently developing a final rule to implement changes to the administration of the Broadband program based on public comments received. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0572-AC34.

USDA also works to increase the effectiveness of the Government's investment in rural America. To this end, Rural Development will issue a final rule to establish program metrics to measure the economic activities created through grants and loans, including any technical assistance provided as a component of the grant or loan program, and to measure the short and long-term viability of award recipients, and any entities to whom recipients provide assistance using the awarded funds. The action is required by section 6209 of the 2014 Farm Bill, and will not change the underlying provisions of the included programs, such as eligibility, applications, scoring, and servicing provisions. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0570-AA95.

Increase agricultural opportunities by ensuring a robust safety net, creating new markets, and supporting a competitive agricultural system.

In another step to increase the effectiveness of the Government's investment in rural America, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) published a proposed rule on March 26, 2015, on behalf of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to specify the requirements for a person to be considered actively engaged in farming for the purpose of payment eligibility for certain FSA and CCC programs. These changes will ensure that farm program payments are going to the farmers and farm families that they are intended to help. Specifically, FSA is revising and clarifying the requirements for a significant contribution of active personnel management to a farming operation. These changes are required by the 2014 Farm Bill, and will not apply to persons or entities comprised solely of family members. FSA is currently developing a final rule to implement changes to the rule based on public comments received. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0560-AI31.

The Federal Crop Insurance Program mitigates production and revenue losses from yield or price fluctuations and provides timely indemnity payments. The 2014 Farm Bill improved the Federal Crop Insurance Program by allowing producers to elect coverage for shallow losses, improved options for growers of organic commodities, and the ability for diversified operations to insure their whole-farm under a single policy. To strengthen further the farm financial safety net, the Risk Management Agency (RMA) published an interim rule on June 30, 2014, that amended the general administrative regulations governing Catastrophic Risk Protection Endorsement, Area Risk Protection Insurance, and the basic provisions for Common Crop Insurance consistent with the changes mandated by the 2014 Farm Bill. RMA is currently developing a final rule to implement changes based on public comments received. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0563-AC43.

2. Ensure our national forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources.

National forests and private working lands provide clean air, clean and abundant water, and wildlife habitat. These lands sustain jobs and produce food, fiber, timber, and bio-based energy. Many of our landscapes are scenic and culturally important and provide Americans a chance to enjoy the outdoors. The 2014 Farm Bill delivered a strong conservation title that made robust investments to conserve and support America's working lands, and consolidated, and streamlined programs to improve efficiency and encourage participation. Farm Bill conservation programs provide America's farmers, ranchers and others with technical and financial assistance to enable conservation of natural resources, while protecting and improving agricultural operations. Seventy percent of the American landscape is privately owned, making private lands conservation critical to the health of our nation's environment and ability to ensure our working lands are productive. To sustain these many benefits, USDA has implemented the authorities provided by the 2014 Farm Bill to protect and enhance 1.3 billion acres of working lands. USDA also manages 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. Our partners include Federal, Tribal, and State governments; industry; non-governmental organizations, community groups and producers. The Nation's lands face increasing threats that must be addressed. USDA's natural resource-focused regulatory strategies are designed to make substantial contributions in the areas of soil health, resiliency to climate change, and improved water quality.

Improve the health of the Nation's forests, grasslands and working lands by managing our natural resources.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which provides financial and technical assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands and their related benefits. The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), and the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) into ACEP. In fiscal year 2014, an estimated 143,833 acres of farmland, grasslands, and wetlands were enrolled into ACEP. Through regulation, NRCS established a comprehensive framework to implement ACEP, and standardized criteria for implementing the program, provided program participants with predictability when they initiate an application and convey an easement. On February 27, 2015, NRCS published an interim rule to implement ACEP. NRCS is currently developing a final rule to implement changes to the administration of ACEP based on public comments received. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0578-AA61.

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) also helps the Department ensure that our national forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change. Through CSP, NRCS provides financial and technical assistance to eligible producers to conserve and enhance soil, water, air, and related natural resources on their land. NRCS makes funding for CSP available nationwide on a continuous application basis. In fiscal year 2014, NRCS enrolled about 9.6 million acres and now CSP enrollment exceeds 60 million acres, about the size of Iowa and Indiana combined. On November 5, 2014, NRCS published an interim rule to implement provisions of the 2014 Farm bill that amended CSP. Key changes included: limiting eligible land to that in production for at least 4 of the 6 years preceding February 7, 2014, the date of enactment of the 2014 Farm Bill; requiring contract offers to meet stewardship threshold for at least two priority resource concerns and meet or exceed one additional priority resource concern by the end of the stewardship contract; allowing enrollment of lands that are protected by an agricultural land easement under the newly authorized ACEP; and allowing enrollment of lands that are in the last year of the Conservation Reserve Program. NRCS is currently developing a final rule to implement changes to the administration of CSP based on public comments received. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0578-AA63.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is another voluntary conservation program that helps agricultural producers in a manner that promotes agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible goals. Through EQIP, agricultural producers receive financial and technical assistance to implement structural and management conservation practices that optimize environmental benefits on working agricultural land. Through EQIP, producers addressed their conservation needs on over 11 million acres in fiscal year 2014. EQIP has been instrumental in helping communities respond to drought. On December 12, 2014, NRCS published an interim rule that implemented changes mandated by 2014 Farm Bill and addressed a few key discretionary provisions, including, adding waiver authority to irrigation history requirements, incorporation of Tribal Conservation Advisory Councils where appropriate, and clarifying provisions related to Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMP) associated with Animal Feeding Operations (AFO). NRCS is currently developing a final rule to implement changes to the administration of EQIP based on public comments received. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0578-AA62.

Contribute to clean and abundant water by protecting and enhancing water resources on national forests and working lands.

The 2014 Farm Bill relinked highly erodible land conservation and wetland conservation compliance with eligibility for premium support paid under the federal crop insurance program. The Farm Service Agency implemented these provisions through an interim rule published on April, 24, 2015. Since publication of the interim rule, more than 98.2 percent of producers met the requirement to certify conservation compliance to qualify for crop insurance premium support payments. Implementing these provisions for conservation compliance is expected to extend conservation provisions for an additional 1.5 million acres of highly erodible lands and 1.1 million acres of wetlands, which will reduce soil erosion, enhance water quality, and create wildlife habitat. Through this action, NRCS modified the existing wetlands Mitigation Banking Program to remove the requirement that USDA hold easements in the mitigation program. This allows entities recognized by USDA to hold mitigation banking easements granted by a person who wishes to maintain payment eligibility under the wetland conservation provision. FSA is currently developing a final rule to implement changes to the interim rule based on public comments received. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0560-AI26.

3. Help America promote agricultural production and biotechnology exports as America works to increase food security.

Food security is important for sustainable economic growth of developing nations and the long-term economic prosperity and security of the United States. Unfortunately, global food insecurity is expected to rise in the next five years. Food security means having a reliable source of nutritious and safe food and sufficient resources to purchase it. USDA has a role in curbing this distressing trend through programs such as Food for Progress and President Obama's Feed the Future Initiative and through new technology-based solutions, such as the development of genetically engineered plants, that improves yields and reduces post-harvest loss.

Ensure U.S. agricultural resources contribute to enhanced global food security.

The Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) will issue a final rule for the Local and Regional procurement (LRP) Program as authorized in section 3207 of the 2014 Farm Bill. USDA implemented a successful LRP pilot program under the authorities of the 2008 Farm Bill. LRP ties to the President's 2014 Trade Policy Agenda and works with developing nations to alleviate poverty and foster economic growth to provide better markets for U.S. exporters. LRP is expected to help alleviate hunger for millions of individuals in food insecure countries. LRP supports development activities that strengthen the capacity of food-insecure developing countries, and build resilience and address the causes of chronic food insecurity while also supporting USDA's other food assistance programs, including the McGovern Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program (McGovern-Dole). In addition, the program can be used to fill food availability gaps generated by unexpected emergencies. LRP complements ongoing activities under the McGovern-Dole Program, improves dietary diversity and nutrition, and supports the sustainability of school-feeding programs as they transition to full host-government ownership. The final rule will enable FAS and its partners to strengthen the capacity of host-governments to implement their own homegrown school feeding programs. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0551-AA87.

Enhance America's ability to develop and trade agricultural products derived from new and emerging technologies.

USDA uses science-based regulatory systems to allow for the safe development, use, and trade of products derived from new agricultural technologies. USDA continues to regulate the importation, interstate movement, and field-testing of newly developed genetically engineered (GE) organisms that qualify as "regulated articles" to ensure they do not pose a threat to plant health before they can be commercialized. These science-based evaluations facilitate the safe introduction of new agricultural production options and enhance public and international confidence in these products. As a part of this effort, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will publish a proposed rule to revise its regulations and align them with current authorizations by incorporating the noxious weed authority and regulate GE organisms that pose plant pest or weed risks in a manner that balances oversight and risk, and that is based on the best available science. The regulatory framework being developed will enable more focused, risk-based regulation of GE organisms that pose plant pest or noxious weed risks and will implement regulatory requirements only to the extent necessary to achieve the APHIS protection goal. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0579-AE15.

4. Ensure that all of America's children have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals.

A plentiful supply of safe and nutritious food is essential to the well-being of every family and the healthy development of every child in America. Science has established strong links between diet, health, and productivity. Even small improvements in the average diet, fostered by USDA, may yield significant health and economic benefits. However, foodborne illness is still a common, costly-yet largely preventable-public health problem, even though the U.S. food supply system is one of the safest in the world. USDA is committed to ensuring that Americans have access to safe food through a farm-to-table approach to reduce and prevent foodborne illness. To help ensure a plentiful supply of food, the Department detects and quickly responds to new invasive species and emerging agricultural and public health situations.

Improve access to nutritious food.

USDA's domestic nutrition assistance programs serve one in four Americans annually. The Department is committed to making benefits available to every eligible person who wishes to participate in the major nutrition assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the cornerstone of the nutrition assistance safety net, which helped over 46 million Americans-more than half of whom were children, the elderly, or individuals with disabilities-put food on the table in 2014. The Department will soon propose changes to eligibility requirements for SNAP retail food stores to ensure access to nutrition foods for home preparation and consumption for the families most vulnerable to food insecurity. While the ultimate objective is for economic opportunities to make nutrition assistance unnecessary for as many families as possible, we will ensure that these vital programs remain ready to serve all eligible people who need them.

The Department is also committed to helping ensure children have access to healthy, balanced meals throughout the day, as mandated by HHFKA, through the USDA child nutrition programs, including school, child care and summer meal programs. The summer meal programs have seen a historic increase in participation, with 11 million more meals served in 2015 compared to the previous summer, serving a total of more than 187 million meals at over 50,000 summer meal sites throughout the country.

Promote healthy diet and physical activity behaviors.

The Administration has set a goal to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight. On school days, children who participate in both the breakfast and lunch programs consume as many as half of their calories at school. The Department must ensure that all foods served in school contribute to good health, and the HHFKA provided new authority to set common-sense nutrition standards for food sold throughout the school day. To help accomplish this goal, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will publish three rules implementing provisions of the HHFKA.

FNS published an interim rule on June 28, 2013, for Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold in School, as required by HHFKA. Section 208 requires the Secretary to promulgate regulations to establish science-based nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, outside the school meal programs, on the school campus, and at any time during the school day. FNS is currently developing a final rule to implement changes to the interim rule based on public comments received. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0584-AE09.

FNS published the proposed rule, Meal Pattern Revisions Related to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, on January 15, 2015, to implement section 221 of the HHFKA. This section requires USDA to review and update, no less frequently than once every 10 years, requirements for meals served under the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to ensure that meals are consistent with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans and relevant nutrition science. FNS is currently developing a final rule to implement changes to the proposed rule based on public comments received. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0584-AE18.

FNS published the proposed rule, Local School Wellness Policy Implementation and School Nutrition Environment Information, on February 28, 2014, to implement section 204 of the HHFKA. As a result of meal pattern changes in the school meals programs, students are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and there was a 23 percent increase in the selection of fruit at lunch. This Act requires each local educational agency participating in Federal child nutrition programs to establish, for all schools under its jurisdiction, a local school wellness policy to maintain this momentum. The HHFKA requires that the wellness policy include goals for nutrition, nutrition education, physical activity, and other school-based activities that promote student wellness. In addition, the HHFKA requires that local educational agencies ensure stakeholder participation in development of local school wellness policies; periodically assess compliance with the policies; and disclose information about the policies to the public. FNS is currently developing a final rule to implement changes to the proposed rule based on public comments received. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0584-AE25.

Protect agricultural health by minimizing major diseases and pests to ensure access to safe, plentiful, and nutritious food.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) continue to enforce and improve compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. FSIS published a proposed rule on May 13, 2015, that would require non-ambulatory disabled veal calves that are offered for slaughter to be condemned and promptly euthanized. Currently, FSIS allows veal calves that are unable to rise from a recumbent position to be set aside and warmed or rested, and presented for slaughter if they regain the ability to walk. FSIS has found that this practice may contribute to the inhumane treatment of the veal calves. This rule will improve compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act by encouraging improved treatment of veal calves, as well as improve inspection efficiency by allowing FSIS inspection program personnel to devote more time to activities related to food safety. FSIS is currently developing a final rule to implement these changes based on public comments received. For more information about this rule, see RIN 0583-AD54.

5. Create a USDA for the 21st century that is high performing, efficient, and adaptable.

USDA has been a leader in the Federal government at implementing innovative practices to rein in costs and increase efficiencies. By taking steps to find efficiencies and cut costs, USDA employees have achieved savings and cost avoidances of over $1.4 billion in recent years. Some of these results came from relatively smaller, common-sense initiatives such as the $1 million saved by streamlining the mail handling at one of the USDA mailrooms or the consolidation of the Department's cell phone contracts, which is saving taxpayers over $5 million per year. Other results have come from larger-scale activities, such as the focus on reducing non-essential travel that has yielded over $400 million in efficiencies. Overall, these results have allowed us to do more with less during a time when such stewardship of resources has been critical to meeting the needs of those that we serve.

While these proactive steps have given USDA the tools to carry out our mission-critical work, ensuring that USDA's millions of customers receive stronger service, they are matters relating to agency management, personnel, public property, and/or contracts, and as such they are not subject to the notice and comment requirements for rulemaking codified at 5 U.S.C. 553. Consequently, they are not included in the Department's regulatory agenda. For more information about the USDA efforts to cut costs and modernize operations via the Blueprint for Stronger Service Initiative, see http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=blueprint_for_stronger_service.html.

Retrospective Review of Existing Regulations

In accordance with Executive Order 13563, "Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review," and Executive Order 13610, "Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens," USDA continues to review its existing regulations and information collections to evaluate the continued effectiveness in addressing the circumstances for which the regulations were implemented. As part of this ongoing review to maximize the cost-effectiveness of its regulatory programs, USDA will publish a Federal Register notice inviting public comment to assist in analyzing its existing significant regulations to determine whether any should be modified, streamlined, expanded, or repealed.

USDA has identified the following regulatory actions as associated with retrospective review and analysis. Some of the regulatory actions on the below list are completed actions, which do not appear in the Regulatory Agenda. You can find more information about these completed rulemakings in past publications of the Unified Agenda (search the Completed Actions sections) on www.reginfo.gov. Other entries on this list are still in development and have not yet appeared in the Regulatory Agenda. You can read more about these entries and the Department's strategy for regulation reform at http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=USDA_OPEN.




Animal Plant Health & Inspection Service (APHIS)

Participation in the International Trade Data System (ITDS) via the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE)


Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS)

Electronic Export Application and Certification Fee


Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)

Input Export Form Numbers into the Automated Export System



Revisions to the Electronic Submission of the Import Request of Shell Eggs



Forms for Declaration Mandated by 2008 Farm Bill (Lacey Act amendments)


Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Risk Management Agency

Acreage and Crop Reporting Streamlining Initiative



Environmental Policies and Procedures; Compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and Related Authorities


Natural Resources Conservation Service

Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative (CDSI)

- Conservation Client Gateway (CCG)


Rural Business Services (RBS)

Business and Industry Loan Guaranteed Program


Rural Housing Service

Community Facilities Loan and Grants



Electronic Import Inspection and Certification of Imported Products and Foreign Establishments


Forest Service (FS)

National Environmental Policy Act Efficiencies



Streamlined Farm Loan Programs Direct Loan Making


Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)

Direct Certification for School Meals



Prior Labeling Approval System: Generic Label Approval



Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection



Simplified Cost Accounting and Other Actions to Reduce Paperwork in the Summer Food Service Program


Rural Business Services (RBS)

Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance

0570-AA73, 0570-0065


Rural Energy for America Program