The new Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance is out with its proposals for rewarding farmers for dealing with climate change. Now, the question is how much of the plan gets picked up. 

Randy Russell, a top industry lobbyist who is advising the alliance, says the coalition’s intent is to get its recommendations included in climate legislation, and he thinks there’s a good chance a bill could move through a closely divided Congress.

Biden transition officials are being briefed on the recommendations this week. Russell expects the new administration “to drive a debate on (climate policy) early on next year." 

One key recommendation, creating a carbon bank at USDA, could be carried out administratively, according to a key Biden transition adviser. However, the alliance believes Congress needs to increase USDA’s CCC spending authority beyond its $30 billion limit. 

By the way: Keep an eye on Sen. John Boozman, who will be chairman or the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture next year. He tells Agri-Pulse he’s concerned that ag carbon credits will benefit companies that trade in the offsets more than the farmers who generate them. 

Read about the alliance’s recommendations here. We’ll have more about the proposals’ prospects in this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter.

Transition watch: Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, considered a leading candidate to become agriculture secretary, co-authored an opinion piece at arguing for policymakers to address the climate issue. Her co-author was former Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. 

A group that Heitkamp co-founded, the One Country Project, sent out an email to promote the piece. 

Grassley tests positive for COVID

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced Tuesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. “I’m feeling good + will keep up on my work for the ppl of Iowa from home,” Grassley, 87, said in a tweet

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters that Grassley has been "great about wearing his mask, and I think great about taking care of himself.”

Retiring Sen. Pat Roberts with his new portrait

Senate Ag chairman feted at portrait unveiling

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., will be hard to escape on Capitol Hill next year even if he’s retired. A portrait of the retiring chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee was unveiled Tuesday afternoon. It will hang in the committee’s hearing room next year, to go with another version over in the House Ag Committee. 

Roberts is famously the first lawmaker to chair both committees and to author farm bills from both chambers. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who attended the unveiling ceremony, noted Roberts had chaired the Ethics and Intelligence committees but that Ag was “the gavel he was born to wield.” McConnell said Roberts “cornered the market on delivering results under all conditions.” 

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, presented Roberts with chocolate-covered cherries, a top commodity from her home state of Michigan, and praised his work in developing and expanding today’s crop insurance program. “I’m not kidding when I say we might not have had the (Michigan cherry) industry without crop insurance,” she said. 

The ceremony included recorded tributes from the likes of Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue; former secretaries Dan Glickman and Mike Johanns; House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and many of the numerous former Roberts staff members who are now involved in the industry around D.C.

Roberts with wife, Franki, and McConnell before the portrait unveiling. In the background, Stabenow talks with Mike Conaway, the ranking Republican on House Ag Committee. 

Stabenow talking to the webcast audience. 

Boozman: Stimulus unlikely this year

Producers likely won’t see another influx of COVID-19 cash until after the first of the year.  Boozman feels Democrats are holding out for a Biden administration.

“I don’t see us really getting anything done until after the first of the year and I think Vice President (Joe) Biden has got ideas along those lines and I think (Democrats) are purposefully waiting,” he told Agri-Pulse.

By the way: As of this week, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program has paid out roughly $20.5 billion to producers in CFAP 1 and CFAP2, according to USDA. About $10.4 billion in CFAP2 payments have been distributed so far to 651,000 farms. 

EU faces international concerns over carbon tariff

 Several countries including the U.S. are airing concerns at the World Trade Organization over the European Union’s plan to tax imports based on their carbon intensity.

The U.S., Canada, Colombia, India, Norway, Paraguay, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey all expressed reservations about the carbon border adjustment plan after the EU made a presentation this week on its European Green Deal, an initiative that the Trump administration has sharply criticized for threatening agricultural productivity and reducing farmers’ access to technologies such as pesticides.

Report: Ag robotics face numerous challenges

A new paper from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology says there are both technical and socioeconomic barriers to the increased adoption of ground and aerial robots in agriculture. 

Among the engineering challenges are designing and deploying robots to work faster and more gently than human labor when interacting with plants and animals, the paper says. There’s also the fear that robots will replace humans, and the question of whether robots are economically viable.

“We’re certainly going to see [the use of robots] growing slowly,” Purdue Professor Dennis Buckmaster said on a CAST webinar Tuesday. He doesn’t think robots will be common on farms for at least another decade. 

Jobs robots could do include harvesting fruits and vegetables, weeding and thinning in vegetable crops, precision chemical application and crop canopy management.

USDA takes a bow for dairy success in Indonesia

U.S. dairy exports to Indonesia were already on the rise, but trade shot up dramatically after USDA Undersecretary for Trade Ted McKinney traveled to the Southeast Asian Nation to host an event aimed at boosting the profile of U.S. cheese, whey, lactose and non-fat dry milk, according to USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.  

The U.S. share of Indonesia’s dairy market jumped by 11% in the twelve months after McKinney headlined a U.S.–Indonesia dairy roundtable” in September 2019, says FAS. “Far outpacing the record 2019 year, U.S. exports of dairy products to Indonesia surged to more than 160,000 metric tons, valued at more than $346 million,” the report says. 

He said it. “If we hadn’t included cherries from Michigan, there wouldn’t be a crop insurance program.” – Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., after the panel’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, credited crop insurance for saving her state’s cherry industry. 

Roberts co-authored the landmark Agriculture Risk Protection Act of 2000, which significantly expanded the insurance program, and has been the industry’s most vocal champion ever since. 

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