The power shift in the House Agriculture Committee is close to being complete. The House Republican steering committee on Wednesday picked Pennsylvania Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson as the Ag committee’s ranking member, replacing the retiring Mike Conaway. 

The selection of Thompson, who comes from a long line of dairy producers, was no surprise and it’s a big win for the dairy sector. The House Democratic caucus is expected to approve Rep. David Scott of Georgia as the committee chairman. 

Arkansas Sen. John Boozman will take over as either chairman or ranking member of Senate Ag, depending on which party controls the Senate. 

Another House aggie, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, will become the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She replaces retiring Oregon Rep. Greg Walden. McMorris Rodgers represents the eastern third of Washington, a major wheat growing region. 

E&C is critical to agriculture because it has oversight of both the Environmental Protection Agency – including biofuel policy – and the Food and Drug Administration. 

Read our story here

Farm income set up for a fall?

Farmers could face a steep drop in earnings next year unless they can make up in the market what they’ve been getting in government payments this year. USDA’s latest forecast has net farm income this year hitting its highest level since 2013, thanks to soaring government payments and a run-up in prices for soybeans and other commodities this fall. 

Net farm income is projected at nearly $120 billion this year, with nearly $46.5 billion of that coming from government payments, including coronavirus relief and the Market Facilitation Program. From 2015 through 2017, government payments averaged less than $12 billion a year.

“We would expect 2021 net farm income to be a lot lower than in 2020 if there are no new ad hoc payments and no major changes in commodity markets,” said Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri.

Another top economist, Dan Basse, expects government payments to fall back to $15 billion or $17 billion in 2021, but he’s bullish on commodity prices, especially if China keeps buying aggressively. Basse, president of AgResource Co., says soybean prices could go as high as $14 to $16 a bushel, given the tightening stocks and prospects for crops in South America. 

By the way: USDA economist Carrie Litkowski says while the risk of insolvency in the farm sector is rising, it’s still relatively low. The farm debt-to-asset ratio has been increasing since 2013 and is at its highest level since 2002, but it’s still nowhere near the levels observed in the 1980s farm crisis, she said on a webinar. 

Read our report on the USDA forecast here

The Senate Ag Committee’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, presents a gavel to retiring Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts as he holds his final hearing.

Wanted: More ag scientists

Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman worries the U.S. is falling behind countries like China and Brazil in prioritizing food and agricultural research. Glickman told the Senate Ag Committee on Wednesday that one of the challenges for U.S. agriculture is recruiting more ag scientists. 

“We have to have a new generation of young scientists who are willing to tackle these problems, who find them sexy – who find them interesting and are going to be solving the problems of the future,” he said. 

Moving forward, public and private partnerships must work together to prepare for threats that could wipe out agriculture, including pests, diseases or a future pandemic, says Glickman.

Iowa senator says EV plan may hurt biofuels

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa says she fears President-elect Joe Biden’s promotion of electric vehicles will hurt the biofuel industry by depressing demand. “The Biden-Harris administration is probably the most, as determined by some of the renewable fuel groups, one of the most anti-RFS administrations,” she told Agri-Pulse

Biden’s climate plan calls for deploying more than 500,000 new public charging outlets by the end of 2030. Whether he can carry that out remains to be seen. 

Democrats say the ethanol industry has already been hurt by the Trump administration’s granting of small refinery exemptions. 

Swiss fail in appeal on emmental cheese

The U.S.-based Consortium for Common Food Names is always on guard against European efforts to block the general use of names for cheeses and other foods, and the group has scored another victory – this time against the Swiss.

The European Intellectual Property Office has rejected an appeal by the Bern-based Emmentaler Switzerland, makers of the cheese in Europe, to get the name emmental trademarked. The European IP office “confirmed that the term is generic and referred often to the arguments presented by CCFN and other opponents of the Swiss application,” CCFN said in a statement.

The Swiss could appeal again – this time to the European General Court – but CCFN says it will fight the effort again if that happens.

Tastes like chicken? Singapore first to approve lab-grown nuggets

Singapore on Wednesday became the first country to approve “cultured chicken” – the nuggets produced in a laboratory by the San Francisco-based Eat Just company

“Over the course of many months, Eat Just’s team of scientists, product developers and regulatory experts have prepared extensive documentation on the characterization of its cultured chicken and the process to produce it,” the company said in a statement. “Eat Just has demonstrated a consistent manufacturing process of their cultured chicken by conducting more than 20 production runs in 1,200-liter bioreactors.”

She said it. “Mr. Chairman we do look forward to hanging you in the new year.” – Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee to retiring Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas. She was referring to Roberts’ portrait that will hang in the Senate Ag Committee hearing room.

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