If it's on your dinner plate, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had a hand in getting it there. The USDA oversees matters related to the nation's agricultural industry and food supply. Its main mission is to assist America's farmers and ranchers, provide outreach and education to the public, and help secure trade agreements to expand agricultural exports. Among its numerous functions, it provides training and scientific resources to farmers, awards grants, monitors food safety, operates the Forest Service, and aids federal decision-making processes related to agricultural regulations and trade policies.
USDA's mission is to empower and revitalize farms, ranches, and rural communities. It provides supporting innovative research and gives farmers and ranchers access to international markets through market development programs, trade shows, and by assisting in the negotiation of trade agreements to benefit US agricultural producers.
It is also pushing for collaboration between federal, state, and local governments, and private sector, non-profit community, and educational institutions to help develop regional strategies and coalitions to support the growth of agriculture-based local communities.
In 2015 USDA's outlays were estimated at about $140 billion, down from $149 billion and $156 billion in 2014 and 2013, respectively. Mandatory spending is about $116 billion, with discretionary spending at $24 billion. Some three-fourths of the outlays is dedicated to nutrition assistance, with farm and commodity programs and conservation and forestry accounting for 11% and 8%, respectively.
USDA's long-term strategy is focused on five broad initiatives: assisting rural communities in becoming self sustaining and profitable; preserving and improving national forests and private lands and upgrading water supply and quality; promoting agricultural and biotechnology exports; ensuring that all children in the US have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals; and making the agency more efficient and adaptable.
USDA was founded in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, who called it "the people's department."