The Democratic-controlled House narrowly passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief plan Thursday evening even as leaders continue to negotiate a final package. Ahead of the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats were still trading proposals with the White House but wouldn’t have a deal before today. ”We’re going back and forth,” she said. 

Several farm-district Democrats who are in tough re-election races, including Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, joined Republicans in voting against the revised HEROES Act, which passed 214-207. 

The bill includes provisions targeting help to select farm sectors and expanding food assistance.

Harris proposes heat standard for workers

Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris is proposing to mandate federal protections for people, including farmworkers, who have to labor outside in high temperatures. 

bill the California senator introduced with Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to set standards for measures such as paid breaks in cool spaces, access to water, and limits on the time a worker can be exposed to heat. 

“It is absolutely unconscionable that workers in industries from agriculture to construction face excessive heat conditions for hours each day with no protections for their health and safety,” Harris said. 

The bill is named after a farmworker who died of heatstroke;  a similar bill was introduced in the House. 

Keep in mind: The bill is in line with Joe Biden’s plan to expand farmworker protections.

Farmworker advocates: USDA move will slash H-2A rates

Farmworker Justice, which works to protect the rights of farmworkers, says USDA’s decision to scrap its annual labor survey will effectively cut the minimum wages that farms must pay H-2A workers next year. 

Without the survey, the state or federal minimum wage farms will likely only have to pay H-2A workers the state or federal minimum wage, says FJ senior staff attorney Iris Figueroa. The Adverse Effect Wage Rate farms are now required to pay is based on that USDA survey. And Figueroa says the Labor Department can’t change the way the AEWR is calculated without going through a notice-and-comment process to alter its regulations. 

The USDA action “would result in significant wage cuts for farmworkers across the country, as compared to the current AEWR,” she said. 

Keep in mind: Farm groups tell Agri-Pulse they are not certain how DOL will respond to the USDA action, and the department has not responded to a request from Agri-Pulse for comment on its plans. 

USDA said it’s ending the survey because similar data is available to the public elsewhere. USDA also killed a memorandum of understanding with DOL on use of the survey.

Another big week for US soybean sales to China

The U.S. sold about 1.3 million metric tons of soybeans to China in the week of Sept. 18-24, following the previous week’s total of roughly 1.9 million tons. It is fresh evidence that Chinese demand remains strong as the country rebuilds its swine herd and boosts poultry production.

The new trade numbers released Thursday by USDA also show physical exports of U.S. soy to China also remain strong. The U.S. shipped 893,900 tons to China during the latest weekly data, up from 769,300 tons Sept. 11-17.

Perhaps most telling is the latest sales figure on outstanding sales. China has purchased – but not yet imported – about 17.4 million tons of soybeans for 2020-21 delivery, as of Sept. 24. A year ago – when the impacts of the U.S.-China trade war were harsher – outstanding sales totaled just 2.9 million tons. It was in March this year that China began to officially exempt importers from the country’s tariffs on U.S. ag commodities.

Brazil picks up pace on US rice imports

It’s a rare situation, but Brazil is buying a lot of U.S. rice. The South American country, facing rising domestic prices that had consumers grumbling, paused its 12% tariff on U.S. rice and purchases began almost immediately last month. From Sept. 4-10, Brazil purchased 30,000 metric tons, according to USDA data, and then purchased another 7,200 tons in the following seven-day period.

And in the latest data out of USDA, Brazilian importers snapped up 71,100 tons of U.S. rice from Sept. 18-24.

“The situation in Brazil has occurred at an opportune time for U.S. rice exporters as we continue to harvest the 2020 crop and have a limited opportunity for duty-free access,” the USA Rice Federation said in a statement for Agri-Pulse. “We are hopeful that given the ongoing demand for rice in Brazil that they will extend the duty-free quota opportunity into 2021.”

The tariff cut lasts through Dec. 31 and only applies to the first 400,000 tons of imported rice.

Brazil has only imported a yearly average of about 1,000 metric tons of U.S. rice over the past decade.

Lenders need to step up on climate, lawmakers told

Ag lenders need to adjust their loan practices so they can provide the financing that farmers need to become more climate resilient, a representative of the Environmental Defense Fund told lawmakers Thursday.

Highlighting a recent EDF report, Maggie Monast told the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis that ag lenders “can create loan products that align with the financial needs of farmers who adopt practices that improve climate resilience. Ultimately, this will benefit both farmers and the overall risk of a lender’s portfolio.”

Her written testimony is here.

APHIS takes steps to aid poultry growers

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is creating a new program under its National Poultry Improvement Plan so flock owners can demonstrate their birds are free of Newcastle Disease.

“Through the program, owners can show that their flocks meet all requirements to be considered unaffected by ND by both the official state agency and APHIS,” the federal agency said in announcing the new rule

The rule also makes changes to NPIP regulations on indemnity and compensation payments for low pathogenic avian influenza detections. The rule alters definitions of various terms “related to providing payments for animals, materials, cleaning and disinfection, and other steps needed for infected farms to return to normal business,” APHIS says.

She said it. “We all know that our planet is on fire, and the urgency of getting carbon out of the air, carbon out of the water could not be stronger. … Biden knows that. He’s put together a strong plan to do that, and a lot of us are going to help him do that and more.” – Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., when asked about Biden’s comment at Tuesday’s debate that the Green New Deal isn’t his plan. 

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher at