Climate policy is one of the six focus areas tonight in the second and final debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Other debate issues include national security and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We’ll be watching to see if Biden talks about the ag provisions in his climate plan, which was developed with advice from former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. The plan would use the Conservation Stewardship Program and funding from corporations and other private sources to pay farmers for practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Proposals by congressional Democrats also call for significant increases in conservation program spending. 

Read our reports on Biden’s climate plan here and here

Some senators question lame duck prospects for aid

Now that’s it’s becoming clear that a big coronavirus relief bill is unlikely to get enacted before Election Day, some Senate Republicans wonder whether the legislation could pass in a lame duck either. 

“I'm never very optimistic about the lame duck, and I've never been surprised that you don't get near as much done as you think you're gonna get done,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told pool reporters on Wednesday.

Keep in mind: A lot could depend on the election outcome: If President Trump loses, how motivated will he be to negotiate a deal? 

If Democrats win control of the Senate as well as the White House, would they rather wait until January to move a bill, or will they want to get the issue behind them in the lame duck? In that case, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, thinks Democrats would want to wait until January. 

Mark Meadows’ take: “I think anything gets harder the longer it takes, but now that we’re 90 days into this, it becomes really incumbent upon us to get something done and the American people are hurting,” said the White House chief of staff.

Disaster aid sought for winegrapes

Here’s another potential issue for the lame duck: A senior Democratic senator is asking Senate appropriators to provide additional disaster aid for winegrape growers who saw their crops damaged by this year’s wildfires. 

Sen. Ron Wyden made the appeal in a letter to Senate Ag Appropriations Subcommittee Chair John Hoeven, R-N.D., and his Oregon colleague, Jeff Merkley, the subcommittee’s top Democrat. “Exposure to smoke particles can dramatically change the flavor of wine grapes, rendering them unusable in the winemaking process,” Wyden said in his letter. 

Keep in mind: Congress needs to pass a fiscal 2021 omnibus spending bill in the lame duck or else keep the government operating at FY20 levels through another continuing resolution. 

Grain shipment delays possible

Some grain shipment delays may be developing in the Pacific Northwest and northern Plains as harvest progress surpasses five-year averages.

“Rail carriers may be three to four weeks behind on getting cars spotted to bring wheat into their mill, so we’re starting to see these as agriculture ramps up with the harvest,” Randy Gordon, president and CEO of the National Feed and Grain Association, said during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday.

According to American Association of Railroads data, some 25,547 grain carloads moved during the week ending Oct. 17, compared to 4,920 a year ago. 

EPA pressed to limit ethanol mandate

West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and 14 GOP colleagues are urging Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler to use its general waiver authority to ensure the 2021 ethanol mandates account for the “unprecedented collapse” in gasoline demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The proportion of biofuels proposed in the 2021 Renewable Volume Obligation must not exceed the ‘blend wall’ of 10 percent ethanol,” the letter says. 

Sen. Jon Tester

Democrats target BLM decisions

Montana Sen. Jon Tester wants the Justice Department to stop defending Perry Pendley’s tenure as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, which a federal judge has said was illegal.

Tester has introduced a bill with five other Democrats that would stop the government from appealing U.S. District Judge Brian Morris’s ruling, which has already resulted in the invalidation of three land-use planning decisions in Montana.  

Environmental groups say they’re preparing to sue over dozens of Pendley-approved plans in other states covering 30 million acres of BLM land. Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of those groups, said a new administration also could reverse the land-use decisions.

French high court upholds pesticide injury claim

France’s highest court has upheld a lower court ruling that found Monsanto liable for injuries suffered by a French farmer who accidentally inhaled Lasso in 2004.

The herbicide was banned in France in 2007. Another court will have to decide how much of the approximately 1 million euros sought by Paul François should be awarded. The farmer alleges he suffered neurological damage.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, says independent court-appointed medical experts “determined that the alleged incident did not cause any of the illnesses Mr. François claimed.”

Egypt prepares to open commodity exchange

Egypt is preparing to open a commodity exchange in the first half of next year to allow for the trading of wheat, rice, sugar and oil, according to USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service

The Egyptian Commodity Exchange is intended to provide greater price stability to commodity markets by “reducing risk, and increasing the number of traders as well as the volume, value, and efficiencies of commodity trading,” FAS says. 

The new spot market may eventually include other commodities. For now, it’s the first step to get small farmers to participate, improve the transparency of commodity pricing and minimize the influence of monopolies over the market.

China sales, trade war fuel Australian almond growth

 Australia keeps planting more almond trees and will have another record-breaking harvest this year, FAS says in another report. The new forecast for the 2020-21 marketing year is 120,000 metric tons, an 8% increase over last year, and more increases are expected in the years to come.

Almond production in Australia has risen by 195% over the past 10 years.

Much of the growth is being spurred by demand in China, which has a free trade agreement with Australia. And China has been buying much less from the U.S. because of the ongoing trade war. China, in retaliation to U.S. import taxes, levied multiple tariffs on U.S. almonds that added up to a total of 75% for in-shell walnuts and 70% for shelled walnuts. Chinese imports of U.S. almonds dropped by roughly 50%.

He said it: “If we’re gonna do it this year, I think it’s now or never.” – Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., questioning a stimulus bill could pass in the lame duck. 

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher at