President-elect Joe Biden continues to roll out his Cabinet picks, though there’s no word yet on key picks for agriculture, environment and trade. Today, he’ll introduce the members of his economic team, including Janet Yellen, who he intends to nominate for treasury secretary, and Neera Tanden, his pick to run the Office of Management and Budget, which has broad authority over the spending and regulatory matters. 

Tanden, president of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, has emerged as the most controversial. 

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, described her as “radioactive,” noting her repeated attacks via social media on Republicans over the last several years. “I think it's a really a misstep by the administration,” Cornyn told reporters. Tanden has been removing tweets in recent days.

Take note: Under President Donald Trump, the president’s budget repeatedly proposed deep cuts in spending on crop insurance and farm programs.

Bill Northey

CFAP-2 payments top $11B as deadline nears

USDA has now paid out more than $11.1 billion so far in the second round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program as the Dec. 11 signup deadline approaches. Bill Northey, USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation, tells Agri-Pulse the payments could still reach USDA’s original estimate of $13.2 billion.

“It’s hard to know. We continue to see new applications, maybe a half a billion dollars or so a week that we’re paying out (with) just a couple of weeks left. But we often see a little bit of a surge at the end,” Northey said. 

As of Monday, USDA had approved 703,849 CFAP-2 applications. Iowa continues to be the biggest recipient at just over $1 billion. Nebraska is second at $756 billion and California third at $752 billion.

By the way: USDA has about $5 billion left over from CFAP-1 that it could potentially use for CFAP-2 if there is a real wave of new applications. 

Dairy deadline approaches with slow signup

Dec. 11 also is the deadline for dairy producers to sign up for 2021 coverage under the Dairy Margin Coverage. So far, only 6,308 operations have signed up for DMC 2021, compared to the 13,468 enrolled for 2020 coverage.

But Northey thinks there will be many more producers who enroll by next week’s deadline. “We have between 9,000 and 10,000 producers that signed up for multiple year contracts and so that will be very easy for them to be able to do it, and they’ve already promised to be able to make a premium payment,” Northey said. 

There are about 24,825 eligible dairy operations nationwide. 

EPA misses biofuel blending target deadline

Ethanol industry leaders are urging the White House to let the incoming Biden administration set the 2021 biofuel usage mandates after the deadline to finalize a rule was missed Monday.

Even if a proposed rule had been released by Monday’s statutory deadline, it would be almost impossible to have a final rule done by the end of the calendar year or even by inauguration day, says Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association.

“We are confident that the new EPA administrator, whoever that may end up being, will stop doing secret favors for oil refiners and ensure the RFS is implemented in a way that is consistent with the law and Congressional intent,” Cooper said. 

Cooper acknowledges it may take a few months for a new administration to finalize the 2021 renewable volume obligations. But he says the Renewable Fuel Standard is still clear that refiners must blend at least 15 billion gallons of conventional renewable fuel in 2021.

UK farm support plan provokes concern

The British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has unveiled its plan to support farmers and ranchers as the nation breaks away from the European Union, but the government’s “Path to Sustainable Farming” fell mostly flat for the UK’s National Farmers Union.

The plan calls for the direct subsidies that producers got under the EU to be phased out over the next seven years, replacing them with payments to finance environmental improvements on farms and grants to improve operations.

The British NFU says the plan leaves too many unanswered questions and threatens the system of support producers are accustomed to.

“These payments have been a lifeline for many farmers especially when prices or growing conditions have been volatile and will be very difficult to replace in the first four years of this transition,” says NFU President Minette Batters.

US, Swiss team up with Ikea to help African farmers

The U.S. Agency for International Development, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and a foundation set up by Swedish furniture company Ikea are committing jointly to invest $30 million to fund small and medium-size agricultural operations in Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

The $30 million will go to the nonprofit group Aceli Africa, which works with ag companies and banks and promises to turn the investment into $700 million in loans.

“The program will also inject new data, boosting government and investor confidence in African agriculture, in order to jumpstart lending to this undercapitalized sector for decades to follow,” says USAID.

He said it. “It’s like posting things on Facebook when you know you're going to have to go apply for a job. … Your employer is going to look at your Facebook post and say, ‘Okay, what does this demonstrate about their judgment, or their temperament, or qualifications?’” – Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, suggesting now-deleted tweets should have disqualified Neera Tanden from being picked to run the Office of Management and Budget. 

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