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 addition to serving rural communities across the US, USDA pursues export opportunities and conducts trade agreements worldwide. The organization has been placing an emphasis on expanding export opportunities in Chile, China, and Japan.
In 2012 USDA's budget was $225 billion, a 5% increase from 2011's $214 billion budget. The agency's operating budget was reduced by 12% between 2010 and 2012, mainly through staffing reductions, cuts in programs, and other expense reductions.
The agency's outlays were $155 billion in 2013, an increase of $4 billion from 2012. The increase in outlays was primarily due to a $6 billion increase in funds allotted to mandatory spending for crop insurance, nutrition assistance, farm commodity programs and other services required by law. Discretionary spending for programs like Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC), rural development loans and grants, and national forest management was down $2 billion.
USDA's long-term strategy is focused on four 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; and ensuring that all children in the US have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals.
In 2012 USDA and the Department of Energy announced investments of $214.5 billion for 13 biofuel and feedstock projects . It also announced funding for 13 partnership agreements for wetland restoration and conservation work in 12 states.
USDA was founded in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, who called it "the people's department."