The Biden administration’s climate policy is still a work in progress, especially when it comes to agriculture. But we have a better idea of where the Senate could be headed, and the implications could extend into the next farm bill.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who expects to take over as chair of the Ag Committee next week, is eyeing at least two key steps on climate policy. One is to move her Growing Climate Solutions Act to the Senate floor. That bill is intended to facilitate trading in ag carbon markets.
Stabenow wants to use a broader climate package to pour new funding into conservation programs that will compensate farmers for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Using that climate legislation for funding would mean lawmakers wouldn’t have to cut other farm bill programs to cover the cost of those green payments.
By the way: Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, who will be the committee’s top Republican, wants several hearings on climate policy. “My concern as always is anything we need to do needs to be voluntary,” Boozman told Agri-Pulse. He’s also skeptical about whether farmers will benefit significantly from carbon markets.
Read more about Stabenow’s plans on Agri-Pulse.com.
Stabenow backs CFAP freeze
USDA has suspended payments under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that were authorized at the end of the Trump administration. The decision is in line with the incoming administration’s government-wide regulatory review. Stabenow said she agrees with “the idea of pausing and reviewing where we are now.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation says in a letter to USDA that it should review the comments the department has received on CFAP and then resume payments as soon as possible. AFBF last week filed a series of recommendations for USDA to consider.
EPW sets confirmation hearing for Regan
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will consider the nomination of Michael Regan to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency at a hearing next Wednesday.
Regan, who has the backing of farm groups, is not expected to have any difficulty getting confirmed to the position. He has been serving as secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality.
Rural coalition to Biden: Address rural infrastructure
More than 250 national and state groups have signed a letter appealing to the Biden administration to ensure that its infrastructure plan puts significant resources into rural needs, from fixing roads to upgrading locks and dams and expanding broadband.
“As you are aware, past infrastructure initiatives often focused on urban and suburban infrastructure, while not adequately addressing the unique needs of rural communities,” the letter says. “We ask that you address this as part of your administration’s comprehensive infrastructure renewal efforts.”
Keep in mind: The letter acknowledges federal funding alone won’t be enough and notes state and local money as well as private investment may be needed. The Trump administration ran into opposition from rural lawmakers because it proposed a heavy reliance on private investment.
And there’s this: The letter says rural communities should “have an opportunity to own, control and benefit from the new investments through cooperatives or other mechanisms that promote local forms of ownership.”
Ag workers get travel ban exemption
The State Department has granted a national interest exemption that will allow South African H-2A workers to get to their U.S. jobs despite the COVID-19 travel ban that takes effect this weekend. The exemption also applies to H-2B visa holders who work in the food supply chain.
About 5,000 H-2A workers are South African, according to the Farm Bureau.
Read our story here.
Sen. Dick Durbin
Senators looking at Dreamer-only bill
There are discussions in the Senate about taking apart President Joe Biden’s immigration proposal and moving a bill that would just deal with DACA and recipients and refugees with Temporary Protected Status.
The incoming Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters Thursday he wants to move a DACA-TPS bill on “an expedited basis” and is looking for support of the legislation.
Keep in mind: Dealing with those issues separately could take some of the steam out of doing a broader immigration bill that would deal with illegal immigrants and farm labor issues. But that will be a heavy lift in any case.
Don’t miss our report on the prospects for farm labor reform.
China’s feed demand bolsters sorghum imports
Soybeans and corn make up most of the imported U.S. feed ingredients China is depending on to feed its livestock, but U.S. sorghum farmers are also benefitting. Chinese importers committed to buying 253,000 metric tons of U.S. sorghum during the third week of January, according to the latest USDA weekly trade data.
China committed to buy 268,500 tons of U.S. sorghum in the second week of January and 70,900 tons in the first week of 2021.
Prices for domestic corn and soybeans are high, according to a recent analysis by the Beijing office of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, and that’s spurring imports. That trade will be somewhat muted as the Chinese utilize even cheaper feed ingredients such as old rice, but FAS says the country’s sorghum imports in the 2020-21 marketing year will still be far stronger than 2019-20.
Co-op settles CFTC charges
A Nebraska-based cooperative has agreed to pay $400,000 to settle charges that it exceeded the all-months speculative position limit for soybean meal futures contracts traded on the Chicago Board of Trade.
Ag Processing Inc. didn’t admit or deny any of the findings or conclusions of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission order, which says CFTC “has reason to believe” AGP committed the violations on “multiple occasions” between December 2017 and July 2019.
Matt Caswell, AGP’s vice president for member-corporate relations and government affairs, said the co-op couldn’t comment on the settlement under terms of the order. He noted that the order said AGP had cooperated with the investigation.
He said it. “We’re going to need all things green and low carbon, but we’re also going to need oil and gas.” Dan Pickering, chief investment officer of Pickering Energy Partners, when asked on CNBC about General Motors’ new pledge to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2035. Pickering says it will take decades to fully shift away from fossil fuels.
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