A key Republican senator says that the Senate’s coronavirus aid package is likely to include a similar level of aid to what was in the House-passed HEROES Act: $33 billion. 

Sen. John Hoeven, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said in an interview for Agri-Pulse’s Washington Week in Review that a big acreage increase is “in the mix" for the new Soil Health and Income Protection Program, a pilot set-aside program that Senate GOP Whip John Thune inserted in the 2018 farm bill. 

The HEROES Act would authorize expanding SHIP to 5 million acres. It’s now limited to 50,000 acres. 

“One of the things we’ve got to start figuring out is the supply-demand situation and starting to bring these two into harmony. There’s that aspect to it as well as the conservation piece,” Hoeven said of SHIPP. 

Bottom line: He expects the overall cost of the ag provisions to be in the range of $30 billion to $35 billion, which means there won’t be in the large increase in Commodity Credit Corp. spending authority that some lawmakers and the American Farm Bureau Federation had been seeking. AFBF wants the CCC spending cap, now $30 billion, raised to $68 billion. 

Keep in mind: USDA has an additional $14 billion in CCC authority available starting this month, thanks to the CARES Act that was enacted in late March. 

Take note: Hoeven said there could be additional funding for rural broadband expansion both in the new aid package as well as the regular fiscal 2021 spending bill for USDA and FDA.

USDA broadens CFAP payment eligibility 

USDA added dozens of specialty crops to the $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and expanded assistance to seven other crops, including apples and potatoes.

The National Association of Wheat Growers was unable, however, to persuade USDA to make additional classes of wheat eligible for CFAP. NAWG CEO Chandler Goule says the group is continuing to work with USDA on the issue. 

Read our story here. 

House appropriators move FY21 Agriculture bill

The House Appropriations Committee is sending to the House floor an FY21 spending bill for USDA and FDA that includes $990 million in new funding for USDA’s ReConnect program, which provides loans and grants for rural broadband projects. The committee approved the bill by voice vote.

A manager’s amendment that was adopted by the committee would require the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the latest recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 

The lawmakers want to know how the committee’s report tracks with the recommendations from a NAS study about the use of dietary studies. 

By the way: Hoeven says there’s no timeline yet for the Senate Appropriations Committee to start its work on FY21 bills. 

Appropriators pushing back on new WOTUS rule

Democrats who control the Appropriations Committee want EPA to address what they say are “technical deficiencies” in its Navigable Waters Protection Rule. A directive to EPA in that regard is included in the draft report that accompanies the FY21 Interior-Environment spending bill the committee will consider today.

The NWPR replaced the Obama-era “waters of the U.S.” rule, which had expanded the number of areas regulated under the Clean Water Act. 

EPA’s Science Advisory Board told Administrator Andrew Wheeler in February the agency did not explain why, “if spring-fed creeks are considered to be jurisdictional,” groundwater was excluded from the definition of “waters of the U.S” under the new rule. 

In addition, the scientific advisers said the proposal “excludes irrigation canals from the definition of WOTUS” even though “biological and chemical contamination of large-scale irrigation canals presents a documented and serious risk to public health and safety.”

The committee report says the final rule did not address these and other issues raised by the SAB and directed EPA to deal with them in a report within 30 days of the funding bill’s enactment. It also calls on the agency to fund a National Academy of Sciences report on the final rule's impacts on the nation's waters.

That’s not all: Additional report language directs EPA to let the committee know within 60 days about “its plans to reduce exposure” to chlorpyrifos in children, and to provide a report in 180 days with “information on the nexus between pesticide use and climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

Lighthizer: WTO at ‘turning point’

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer says the U.S. will support a nominee to lead the World Trade Organization only if they see the need for “real reform” of the global trade body. 

Speaking on a webinar Thursday organized by London think tank Chatham House, America’s top trade official said the current structure of the WTO has turned trade agreements on its head, “taking a negotiating forum and … turning it into a litigation forum.” 

As the WTO considers its new leader, Lighthizer said the organization is “clearly at a turning point. I think we’ll end up with an organization that does something helpful, but whether it be the WTO or something like it, who knows?”

Rural Wisconsin voters: Biden a “blank slate”

More than half the members of a focus group of rural and suburban Wisconsin voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016 say Trump would be better for rural America over former Vice President Joe Biden.

Jeff Link, co-founder of Focus on Rural America, which is working to elect Democrats, say the voters also viewed Biden as a “blank slate.”

“Trump basically is hanging onto these people for the moment because they are giving him the benefit of the doubt,” Link says. “I think once they learn more about Joe Biden, I think that could change.”

The focus group was conducted from June 29-July 1 and consisted of 20 people divided into four sets of men and women.

Dry spring aids Lake Erie

A drier-than-usual spring will result in a relatively moderate harmful algal bloom this summer in western Lake Erie, because fewer nutrients will flow into the lake, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting.

"This year’s bloom is expected to measure 4.5 on the severity index,” lower than last year’s measurement of 7.3, NOAA says. The largest bloom, at 10.5, was in 2015, and agencies in the U.S. and Canada have set a goal of 3, which last occurred in 2012.

By the way: The Interior-Environment spending bill that the House Appropriations Committee is debating today would allocate $6 million to study the adverse health effects algal blooms and cyanobacteria toxins and to develop ways to predict algal blooms early enough in the year to take action. 

She said it. “Farm and garden stores have sold out of everything you can imagine, from seedlings to potatoes. People are in their backyards planting gardens. I can’t think of a better silver lining to a really horrible time. “ – Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. 

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher at philip@agri-pulse.com