On to September. The Senate has adjourned until after Labor Day, which means we likely won’t see a deal on coronavirus relief this month. 

The Democratic National Convention starts Monday, the Republican convention takes place the following week, and it would take unanimous consent for the Senate to take up an aid bill, even if the White House could reach agreement with congressional Democrats. 

Keep in mind: Congress also will need to pass a continuing resolution in September to keep the government running when the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. If there’s an aid deal, presumably that could be wrapped together with a CR. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Thursday that he isn’t worried about a government shutdown. As for coronavirus relief, he said, “I’m still hoping we’ll have some kind of bipartisan agreement here sometime in the coming weeks.”

Pence defends Trump on China

Vice President Mike Pence is trying to reassure farmers about the administration’s commitment to hold China accountable on “phase one” trade deal ag purchases. At an event in Iowa Thursday to launch the Trump campaign’s ag coalition, Pence defended the president’s trade policy while going after the Democratic ticket over issues ranging from meat consumption to the Clean Water Act. 

On China, Pence said, “We’re leveling the playing field."

Iowa Soybean Association President Tim Bardole, who attended a meeting with Pence before the speech, told Agri-Pulse that Pence thinks that trade with China is really going well, even though we don’t hear much good news in the media.” In Pence’s view, Bardole said, “when you look at what China is buying there is definitely a huge improvement.”

By the way: Before speaking, Pence talked with a few farmers, including Bardole, (shown in the press pool photo above) about this week’s devastating storm in Iowa. But former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters that the vice president should have toured the state’s crop damage instead of holding a campaign event. 

Read more about the Iowa event here

Chinese pork imports to drop next year

China has been making strong progress to recover from the African swine fever epidemic responsible for the loss of more than half the country’s swine, and rising production will sharply decrease its need for pork imports next year, according to a new report from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

China will import a record-breaking 4.3 million metric tons of pork this year, according to an FAS forecast, but that’s expected to drop by 14% next year to 3.7 million.

“China’s official and industry sources both agree that investments in biosecurity and supply chain measures, taken primarily by larger swine companies, have been largely effective in controlling the spread of ASF,” the new report says. “Additionally, the government’s policy support has positively stimulated swine recovery, resulting in continuing growth of sow and live pig inventories in the first half of 2020. This expansion is forecast to continue in 2021.”

Florida farmers to USTR: Protect us from Mexico

U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer told Southern lawmakers in January he would consider helping their farmers survive the expanding competition from Mexican fruit and vegetable exports, and now the USTR is hearing growers’ proposals and calls to action.

 “We’ve seen explosive growth in imports of Mexican fruit and vegetable crops to the U.S. since 2000,” Mike Joyner, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, told USTR officials in a day-long virtual hearing on Thursday. “Mexico’s produce shipments grew by high triple-digit percentages from 2000 to 2019, including sizable growth from 2017 to 2019. Conversely, our industry suffered proportionate declines during those periods.”

Many who testified said the administration needs to consider imposing duties on Mexican blueberries, strawberries, lettuce, celery and other specialty crops. There is a hearing next week for Georgia farmers. 

By the way: A bipartisan group of 104 House members, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has sent a letter to Lighthizer and Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging them to ensure Canada and Mexico adhere to the dairy provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement. 

Peterson backers: We’ll ‘spend whatever it takes’

A group that’s working to get House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson re-elected says it has now raised close to $900,000. The group didn’t say how much cash it had on hand at this point to spend on Peterson’s Minnesota campaign. 

As of June 30, the Committee for Stronger Rural Communities had reported raising $716,604. The group is heavily supported by the sugar industry. Peterson’s western Minnesota district is a major producer of sugar beets. 

Committee Chairman Kelly Erickson said the group is “ready to spend whatever it takes to help” re-elect Peterson. “We are 100% behind Rep. Peterson because of his effective record on farm policy and his independent leadership.”

A GOP poll released this week shows Peterson down by 10 points to Republican Michelle Fischbach. 


Loans proposed to finance conservation practices

A key House Democrat wants to create a loan program to help farmers increase soil carbon levels and improve soil health. Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who chairs the House Agriculture subcommittee on conservation, has introduced the Healthy Soil, Resilient Farmers Act, which would provide a three-year deferment on paying both the interest and loan principal. 

The loans could cover such practices as cover-cropping, crop rotation, advanced grazing management, organic production and other techniques

Spanberger earlier introduced the House version of the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which is designed to accelerate the growth of ag carbon credit trading by authorizing USDA to certify third-party verifiers and technical service providers. 

USDA sued over treatment of poultry

USDA is not ensuring humane slaughter of poultry, resulting in damaged or contaminated products that violate the Poultry Products Inspection Act, a lawsuit filed Thursday alleges.

The Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary sued the department in federal court in New York, seeking regulations from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service “to address the systematic mistreatment” of chickens, turkeys, and other birds at federally inspected slaughter facilities, according to a news release from the groups.

He said it. “We’re now looking at the possibility that we may have to buy more food from the rest of the world than the rest of the world buys from us.” - Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, telling reporters that the U.S. could actually have a trade deficit in agriculture this year, which he says is the result of Trump’s trade policies. 

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