COVID-19 emergency relief? USDA to spend $10.2M to test composting plans to cut fertilizer use

Department also to award $250 million in new grants this summer to promote fertilizer production domestically.

Updated: July 2, 2022 - 11:02pm

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The Golden Horseshoe is a weekly designation from Just The News intended to highlight egregious examples of wasteful taxpayer spending by the government. The award is named for the horseshoe-shaped toilet seats for military airplanes that cost the Pentagon a whopping $640 each back in the 1980s.

This week's Golden Horseshoe is awarded to the Department of Agriculture for spending $10.2 million on a new pilot program for the generation of compost to discourage the use of fertilizer while issuing $250 million in grants to increase production of fertilizer domestically.

The USDA's Composting and Food Waste Reduction cooperative agreement pilot program is being funded by President Biden's American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion emergency COVID-19 relief package signed into law in March 2021. 

The ARP was intended to fund "vaccinations, provide immediate, direct relief to families bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, and support struggling communities," according to White House archives

The new pilot program found by Just The News on the government website is focused on compost, food waste reduction and reducing fertilizer use.

"The purpose of the CFWR program is to enter into cooperative agreements with eligible entities to develop and test strategies for planning and implementing municipal compost plans and food waste reduction plans," according to the grant's accompanying documents. "Projects can be located in all community types including rural, urban and suburban."  

Funding will go to eligible entities for activities that will: 

  • generate compost
  • increase access to compost for agricultural producers
  • reduce reliance on, and limit the use of, fertilizer
  • improve soil quality 
  • encourage waste management and permaculture business development
  • increase rainwater absorption
  • reduce municipal food waste
  • divert food waste from landfills.

A USDA spokesperson said the program aligns with the ARP and will help deal with supply chain issues caused by the pandemic.

"Composting and Food Waste Reduction (CFWR) cooperative agreements assist local governments, school districts, and Native American tribes with projects that include food waste reduction or compost generation plans," the USDA spokesperson told Just The News.

"As the pandemic highlighted, supply chains that are not resilient can result in significant increases in food loss and waste," the spokesperson said. "Addressing food loss is therefore a key component in improving supply chain resiliency, which is directly aligned with the goals of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021."

The program "supports projects that mitigate the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure fewer supply chain disruptions in the future," she added. "The program will create local networks to ensure excess food will be donated or used in other products and will expand local food production by expanding access to compost for agriculture producers.

"Furthermore, reducing food loss and waste and its associated emissions can mitigate climate change, which negatively impacts agriculture and can disrupt food supply chains." 

The grant documents encourage eligible entities to focus on equity and environmental justice in their applications. Applicants are "encouraged to align their project proposals to address priorities on environmental justice, racial equity, climate, invest in disadvantaged communities and climate smart agricultural practices."

As this new pilot program is being rolled out and applications are due Sept. 1, the USDA is also awarding hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in grants this summer to promote fertilizer production domestically.

"USDA will make available $250 million through a new grant program this summer to support independent, innovative and sustainable American fertilizer production to supply American farmers," the agency announced in a press statement