The House takes up legislation today to fund USDA, FDA and other agencies for fiscal 2021, and Democrats will use the debate to target President Donald Trump’s effort to address the coronavirus-related slowdowns in meatpacking.

Among the amendments that will be considered is one that would block USDA from using authorities that Trump granted under the Defense Protection Act to keep packing plants operational during the COVID-19 crisis. The amendment is sponsored by Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

Keep in mind: The amendment would be largely symbolic for now, since Congress is unlikely to reach agreement on FY21 spending legislation until after the election. 

Another amendment would transfer $1 million to USDA’s inspector general to investigate animal cruelty cases. A third amendment would add $5 million to the Dairy Business Innovation program, which was included in the 2018 farm bill to help dairies develop new products. 

Republican struggle to agree on aid bill

The wait continues on Capitol Hill for Senate Republicans to agree on and release their proposals for coronavirus relief. 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said Wednesday he thought it was “a little optimistic” to expect a bill out in the next day or two. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a member of the GOP leadership, that “if Republicans have anything to do with it, yes” the bill would be out soon.

Ernst said Tuesday the coronavirus bill would likely include $20 billion in additional funding for USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. account to help compensate farmers for pandemic-related losses.

By the way: The top Democrat on the Senate Ag Committee, Debbie Stabenow, says the ag provisions in the House-passed HEROES Act should be the starting point for negotiations. “We’ll have to see what the Republican plan is and go from there,” she told Agri-Pulse. The HEROES Act would provide $33 billion in farm relief. 

Keep in mind: Democrats are keeping the heat on Republicans over some expiring measures, expanded unemployment benefits and a USDA provision that has allowed school kids to pick up meals at their local school without proving need. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tweeted that “it's insane to allow nutrition assistance for children to expire. Dems passed the #HeroesAct to extend this assistance, and Republicans must work with us to ensure children across the country don't go hungry.”

USDA's Ibach

Citing probe, USDA says its working to aid livestock producers

Recommendations that USDA has sent to Congress for improving cattle markets include a to-do list that the department is already addressing internally, a top official says. 

Those measures include the Risk Management Agency's announcement this week that cattle and hog producers will now be eligible for premium subsidies on Livestock Gross Margin insurance policies, says Greg Ibach, USDA’s undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. 

Ibach said the market uncertainty following a fire at a Kansas beef plant last year and facility shutdowns due to the coronavirus this spring demonstrated the need for risk management options. 

USDA also is looking at ways to help small producers with loans and grants, and he noted that the department is studying the impact of food safety regs on small facilities. 

“You’re going to see us implement some of the dialogue and discussions that fall within our USDA capability,” he said.

Keep in mind: USDA is also asking Congress to strengthen its enforcement authority and to make changes to the industry’s price and data reporting requirements.

But there’s little time left this year for Congress to act. “I welcome continued dialogue with cattle market participants to understand their perspectives from the report and how Congress and the administration can work with them to ensure market transparency,” said Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

Read our story here

Abigail Spanberger

House clears landmark public lands bill

A bill headed to President Trump’s desk will guarantee $900 million in annual spending for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which pays for public land acquisitions. Trump is expected to sign the Great American Outdoors Act, which also establishes a fund for maintaining national parks and other public lands. 

The House passed the bill, 301-107, on Wednesday.

Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse, one of 104 Republicans to oppose the bill, said the legislation allows career government employees to determine the scope and scale of future federal land grabs.” 

But Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., welcomed the bill, saying it provided needed funds to address the maintenance backlog on national forests. 

Court preserves Corteva herbicide

The 9th Circuit’s ruling Wednesday allowing continued use of Corteva Agriscience’s Enlist Duo herbicide is being warmly received in the ag community, which was not the case when the same court (but with a different panel of judges) last month vacated registrations for three dicamba herbicides.

With the exception of requiring EPA to reassess impacts of Enlist on monarch butterflies, the appeals court in San Francisco upheld all other challenged aspects of EPA’s 2014, 2015 and 2017 registrations, which together allow use of Enlist on soybeans, corn and cotton in 34 states.

Margaret Hsieh, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said NRDC is pleased the court ordered EPA to reexamine the question of how Enlist affects imperiled monarch butterflies. She said that was the main part of her group’s case.

USDA delays livestock studies due to COVID-19

The USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System had planned in-depth studies of both small and large swine operations as well as cattle feedlots this year, but those are being pushed back until next year because of the massive disruptions to the industry from the COVID-19 outbreak.

USDA says it consulted with industry and veterinarian groups and decided now was not the time for the studies, which will include a look at changes in antibiotic usage. 

The National Pork Producers Council is claiming about $5 billion in damages to the industry after the virus forced packers to close and producers to euthanize swine. “We’re going to lose a lot of hog farmers - small, medium, and large; the question is how many,” according to NPPC’s Nick Giordano.

Willie Rittenbaugh

Don’t Mess with Texas (cattle)

A notorious central Texas cattle thief has been sentenced to 37 years behind bars and ordered to pay nearly $600,000 in restitution for stealing hundreds of animals and misappropriating funds.

William “Willie” Rittenbaugh has pleaded guilty to five felony charges stemming from illegal activities in Hill and Limestone counties, including theft of nearly 800 head of cattle.

The guilty pleas follow a long investigation led by a special ranger with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Marvin Wills. 

He said it. “Cases like this serve as a good reminder. When it comes to theft prevention or recovery of stolen animals, nothing beats a brand.” – Marvin Wills. 

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher at