Senate Democrats are pushing ahead with a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, even as 10 Republican senators push President Joe Biden to agree to a scaled back version that could get bipartisan support. 
The GOP senators met with Biden Monday after releasing details of their $618 billion counter proposal. The plan includes $160 billion for vaccines, testing and measures for combatting the virus as well as $12 billion for nutrition assistance. 
The proposal includes an extension through September of the 15% increase in SNAP benefits that Congress agreed to in December. That increase is currently set to end in June. 
Democrats continue to insist on moving the full $1.9 trillion, although it’s not clear they can keep all 50 Democrats together on the measure. The House is moving ahead with a budget resolution that would set the stage for passing the stimulus plan through the budget reconciliation process. Reconciliation bills need only a simple majority to pass the Senate. 
Meatpackers deny they put workers at risk
The nation’s meatpackers are pushing back against accusations by House Democrats that they failed to adequately protect workers from the COVID-19 pandemic. The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis launched an investigation Monday of the way both the packers and the Trump administration responded to the coronavirus outbreaks in meat processing plants last year. 
Smithfield Foods said it had taken “extraordinary measures” to stop the virus. Tyson Foods said it had spent "more than half a billion dollars” on protective measures. 
The congressional investigators are demanding documents and information from three companies – Smithfield, Tyson and JBS USA – as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Democrats will make the case that the Trump administration maintained a hands-off approach to the processors. Read our story here. 
AFBF says farm bankruptcies fell in 2020 but ag economy still struggling
Chapter 12 farm and family fishery bankruptcies fell in 2020 but still reached the third-highest level in a decade, the American Farm Bureau Federation said in an analysis of case statistics from the federal courts.

The total number of Chapter 12 filings in 2020 was 552, down 43 filings (or 7%) from 2019, AFBF said.

“While Chapter 12 bankruptcies have declined compared to year-ago levels, these numbers should not be considered a sign that the farm economy has recovered,” AFBF said.
In recent years, “many farmers have experienced low commodity prices, high production costs, increasing agricultural land values, increasing cash rents, increasing labor costs, and high capital barriers to entry, among other problems,” AFBF said.

The federal court district for western Wisconsin had the highest number of filings with 39, followed by Kansas with 35, Nebraska with 32 and eastern Wisconsin with 30. 

Biofuels, climate, nutrition, among topics for Vilsack hearing

Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee have several subjects they want to discuss with Secretary of Agriculture nominee Tom Vilsack this morning. Those topics range from climate change, COVID-19 relief, crop insurance, nutrition, biofuels, and meat processing.

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told Agri-Pulse in an email he “looks forward to hearing more on how (Vilsack) will work with Congress to get more meals to hungry families struggling to recover from the pandemic.” He also is curious how Vilsack will address worker safety in meatpacking facilities.

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said making sure Vilsack fights for the Renewable Fuel Standard is her priority.
“We want to make sure that if Biden is making any negative moves on that, that he is going to stand up and voice concerns from farmers,” Ernst told Agri-Pulse.

On tap today: The Senate is expected to confirm two other Cabinet nominees today: Pete Buttigieg for transportation secretary and Alejandro Mayorkas for secretary of Homeland Secretary. 

Buttigieg will oversee trucking regulations as part of his job, while Mayorkas’ responsibilities will include the H-2A program and Customs and Border Protection. 

Heavy rains slow Brazil soy harvest

The Brazilian soybean harvest was already late because of delayed planting last year, but now heavy rains are slowing progress even more, according to the consulting firm AgRural. Just 1.9% of the harvest was in as of last Thursday, making it the latest harvest so far since the 2010-11 season. At this time last year, the crop was 8.9% harvested.

AgRural is still forecasting overall production to reach 131.7 million tons, but the firm says that adverse conditions could hurt the quality.

“In addition to making it difficult for machines to enter some regions, recent rains have also fueled speculation about the loss of grain quality due to excess moisture,” the company said. “This loss, in fact, exists. But, for now, it is restricted to specific areas, since, with the delay of the harvest, there are few crops ready to harvest.”

EU reaches out to Biden seeking stronger trade ties

The European Union is reaching out to the Biden administration, hoping it will usher in a new era of cooperation in the World Trade Organization and stronger trade ties.

“Over the last four years, this bond was weakened,” said European Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis, who spoke Monday at an event hosted by the German Marshall Fund. “But with a new administration in Washington, the European Union is hopeful that the door is opening for a new chapter in the transatlantic story.”

Judge vacates Trump science rule at Biden administration’s request

A Trump administration rule that sought to promote scientific transparency in its regulations, but which critics said would prohibit the use of credible scientific data, has been tossed out by a federal judge.

Brian Morris, chief judge for the federal court in Montana, vacated the rule Monday after finding last week the Environmental Protection Agency lacked authority to make the rule effective as soon it was published in the Federal Register Jan. 6.

Last week, Morris concluded the rule was “substantive,” not merely procedural, and thus could not go into effect immediately. On Sunday, EPA asked Morris to vacate the rule and remand the matter to the agency, which the judge did Monday.

The rule “was a flagrantly unlawful attempt to restrict EPA from using important scientific studies when creating safeguards against health and environmental harms,” Environmental Defense Fund senior attorney Ben Levitan said. “We’re glad the court recognized that and put a stop to it.”

US ethanol avoids duties in Peru

The U.S. ethanol industry is savoring a victory in Peru, where it successfully appealed a decision there to slap a 15% countervailing duty on imports of the corn-based fuel from the U.S.

Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor, Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper and U.S. Grains Council President and CEO Ryan LeGrand released a statement Monday saying they were “pleased that Peruvian authorities reached the right result, and we look forward to continuing our close work with Peru to further enhance our mutually beneficial trade relationship development efforts, including urging them to increase their blend rate beyond 7.8%. Doing so would also help Peru to meet its Paris Agreement commitments and lead to opening more global trade of ethanol.”

Peru imported about 174 million liters of ethanol in 2018, and most of it came from the U.S. according to the USGC.

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