The 117th Congress is officially underway with the swearing in of new members Sunday. The House includes a number of new members who could play a role in shaping food and agriculture policy, considering its importance to their districts. 

Five of the top seven House districts nationwide in terms of agricultural production have new representation this year. All of them are Republican. The five: Randy Feenstra from Iowa’s 4th District, Tracey Mann from Kansas-1, David Valadao from California-21, Michelle Fischbach from Minnesota-7 and Ronny Jackson from Texas-13. 

Take note: Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was re-elected House speaker on a 216-209 vote over GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who chaired a House Ag subcommittee in the last Congress, was one of three Democrats who voted “present.” 

By the way: The Democratic-controlled House is expected to approve a rules package that makes changes on budgeting requirements and floor procedures. The cost of bills that address climate change would no longer have to be offset with spending cuts or revenue increases. 

For more on the new Congress, read our Washington Week Ahead

New report questions need for new CFAP

A new report from the Congressional Research Service questions whether most producers need another round of coronavirus relief payments. The report came out Dec. 21, the day Congress passed the COVID relief package that mandates a new round of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments to row crop farmers and other producers. 

The CRS report notes most major crop and livestock commodities “have seen their prices increase substantially” since July because of improving market conditions. The notable exceptions are beef cattle and dairy, the report says. 

“If current market conditions were to persist into the first half of 2021, it would appear that price declines would be a possible reason for a new round of CFAP payments for livestock and dairy, but not for row crops,” the report says. 

Keep in mind: USDA has no discretion to make the additional CFAP payments required by the new aid package. 

The report also says row crops received 46% of the CFAP-2 payments while representing 28% of the value of U.S. ag output. The specialty crop sector represents 25% of national output and got 17% of the CFAP-2 payments. Livestock producers account for 36% of U.S. output and got 27% of the payments.

Northey: Commodity programs need beefing up

Bill Northey, who is wrapping up his term as USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation, says Congress should consider making it easier for the government to respond to unforeseen crises like the COVID-19 pandemic that hit commodity markets. “It sure would be nice to have some standing authority within the farm bill to be able to do that,” Northey said in an Agri-Pulse Open Mic interview. 

Northey also thinks Congress should increase the $30 billion limit on USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. spending authority. USDA tapped the CCC to make trade assistance and coronavirus relief payments. 

Listen to the interview here.

EPA science transparency rule advances

A key Senate Democrat is criticizing a significant new EPA rule that appears ready for release as EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler heads for the door. The rule would change the way scientific data is used in writing future agency regulations. 

The top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Workers Committee, Tom Carper of Delaware, calls the rule the administration’s “last gasp” of science denial. Environmental advocates and scientific societies charge that EPA’s desire to only use data and models if they “are available in a manner sufficient for independent validation” would lead to the exclusion of certain studies crucial for the protection of public health.

The American Farm Bureau Federation supported the proposal, saying it promotes increased data transparency. CropLife America also backed the proposal but emphasized the importance of protecting confidential business information.

Take note: The rule hasn’t been published in final form yet, but the Office of Management and Budget has finished its review, so it could be published in the Federal Register before President Trump leaves office Jan. 20. 

US beef exports on track for strong start to 2021

U.S. beef export data show promising signs that shipments to China will continue rising in 2021. U.S. exporters reported shipments of 4,400 metric tons of U.S. beef to China from Dec. 18-24, and that’s a strong showing for a market that only opened about eight months ago.

China has been steadily buying more U.S. beef ever since the country effectively lifted its zero-tolerance policy for growth hormone residues in March. That same month, USDA published a list of hundreds of U.S. plants eligible to export to China and importers were making purchases by April.

The Chinese were buying roughly 1,000 tons per month early on, but those totals have been rising in recent months. 

Take note: Chinese imports and purchases of U.S. soybeans, corn, sorghum and wheat also remained strong in late December.

US, UK start 2021 with organic equivalency pact

The U.S. and the UK still don’t have a free trade agreement, but the two countries are starting the new year with a success in organic trade. Friday was the first day of Britain’s independence from the European Union, and it also marked the implementation of an equivalency deal with the U.S. on organic standards.

USDA noted in a statement that the equivalence “is limited to organic products that have been either raised within the U.S. or UK, or products for which the final processing or packaging occurs within the U.S. or UK. This includes products processed or packaged in the U.S. or UK that contain organic ingredients from third countries that have been certified to the USDA or UK organic standards.”

The U.S. still has an equivalency pact with the EU, but that will come to an end in five years and negotiations have already begun to work on a new deal.

TFI picks up biostimulants interests

New members of The Fertilizer Institute have a keen focus on natural plant additives and ironing out their regulatory pathway. 

TFI is adding 20 new members from the BioStimulant Coalition, which will now join the institute and take part in its ongoing advocacy for biostimulant issues. Specifically, TFI CEO Corey Rosenbusch tells Agri-Pulse that standard definitions “need to be adopted and accepted” and consistent regulatory treatment across federal agencies is a major goal of the new alliance. 

Read more about the new TFI members at

He said it: “There’s a lot of cactus in the world, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit on every one of them.” – Pat Roberts, now the former chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, as quoted by the committee’s spokeswoman, Meghan Cline, in her farewell message this weekend to the news media. 

Roberts’ 40-year congressional career came to a close with the formal end of the 116th Congress on Sunday. House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and House Ag ranking member Mike Conaway, R-Texas, also have ended their careers. 

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