House committees begin voting starting today on the first provisions in the massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package President Joe Biden is pushing to pass. The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to approve its portion of the package. 

The chairman of the House Ag Committee, David Scott, D-Ga., has been coordinating with his Senate counterpart, Deb Stabenow, D-Mich., on those provisions, according to a source close to the discussions. 

There won’t be a large tranche of aid for agriculture as there was in the aid bills that passed in March and again in December. But there will be assistance for minority farmers and provisions to bolster research at Black, Hispanic and Native American universities and colleges. 

Take note: Some of the provisions will be in line with a $5 billion assistance package Stabenow joined three new Democratic members of the Senate Ag Committee in proposing for minority farmers, the source said. The proposal includes $4 billion to pay off existing debt and taxes.

The sponsors of the proposal include the committee's two Black members: Democrats Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

CBO throws ringer in minimum wage debate

One of the biggest issues Democrats are struggling with is whether to use the stimulus bill to enact an increase in the minimum wage. The Congressional Budget Office released an analysis of the wage increase that could make it harder or easier to pass, depending on your perspective.
The CBO analysis found that raising the minimum wage would throw 1.4 million people out of work while lifting 900,000 people over the poverty line. That unemployment estimate could make it politically more difficult for some Democrats to support the bill. 

But, but, but: Supporters of the wage increase say the CBO analysis enables the provision to be attached to the aid package under the Senate’s budget reconciliation rules. Here’s why: Any provisions in a reconciliation bill must somehow affect government outlays or revenue, and the CBO is estimating that the wage hike would increase the federal budget deficit by $54 billion.

Keep in mind: Farmworkers are exempt from the federal minimum wage. 

Analysts expect corn, soy export increases in USDA report
Grain market analysts and ag economists will be watching corn and soybean export numbers in the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report released at noon eastern.
Ben Brown, University of Missouri Extension Economist, expects corn export estimates to increase and said that’s largely being driven by Chinese purchases.
“We certainly are on track to pick up our export pace of corn and it will be interesting to see how much USDA raises corn exports,” he told Agri-Pulse.
Current export sales and shipments of soybeans point to a higher estimate for soybean exports. But Brown said the hard part is figuring out where they come from without causing shortages and higher prices for domestic users this summer. He noted analysts expect USDA to tighten U.S. corn stocks by 160 million bushels and U.S. soybean stocks by 17 million bushels.
Hong Kong culls pigs in new ASF scare
Hong Kong authorities have culled 240 pigs after the discovery of African swine fever infections on a farm. It’s the first ASF discovery in domestically-born pigs in about a decade and the government moved quickly to try to stop any spread, according to a report from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
All of the pigs that shared the same shed as the infected animals were culled and the farm has been barred from removing any other pigs from the farm. That trade precaution was widened to include three other nearby farms.
Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department says it is working to pinpoint the source of the virus.
Hemp industry moves forward on checkoff program
The National Industrial Hemp Council and Hemp Industries Association said they will proceed with the development of a hemp checkoff program, citing “positive results” from a recently conducted survey.
“Well over two-thirds of respondents strongly agreed with the essence of a checkoff, the need for more research, for greater promotion of the industry, and for greater consumer education of the hemp industry,” the groups said.
The intensity of support dropped somewhat when a checkoff fee was involved, but two-thirds of the respondents still backed the idea even if it involved “a nominal assessment of less than 1% of the value of their crops to fund industry research, promotion and consumer education.”
“Nearly half of those surveyed were hemp farmers,” the groups said. “The next highest level of responses was from those who process CBD and retail locations.”
US breaks pork export record in 2020
The year 2020 will go in the books as a terrible year for many things, but not U.S. pork exports. A surge in demand from China, seeking to keep pork on the shelves as it dealt with ASF, helped push overall U.S. overseas sales to a record high of 3 million metric tons, worth $7.71 billion. That beat the previous records in tonnage and value in 2019 by 11%, according to an analysis by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
"Obviously the surge in demand from China, especially in the first half of 2020, was a driving force behind the record performance for U.S. pork exports," said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. "But China was not the only success story in 2020, as exports achieved growth in a broad range of markets.”
Japan was one of those successes. Strong fourth quarter sales to the Japanese helped propel 2020 exports to 386,700 tons, worth $1.63 billion. That’s a 5% increase for volume and a 6% increase for value from 2019.
Senators call for withdrawal of sheep import rule
The Department of Agriculture is getting pressure from Capitol Hill to withdraw a rule that would drop bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) concerns from imports of sheep, goats, and most of their products.
The current restrictions, lawmakers say, also serve as “necessary protection against the introduction of other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), such as scrapie.”
“The federal government has invested over $200 million into scrapie eradication since the early 2000s,” one letter led by Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and signed by seven other GOP senators notes. “This investment has yielded tremendous results, lowering the percentage of scrapie-positive cull sheep at slaughter by 99 percent since FY2003. By allowing scrapie positive animals and genetic materials into the United States, we risk reintroducing the very disease we have nearly eradicated.”
Another letter led by Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., specifically cites efforts in the United Kingdom – where the Trump administration was trying to negotiate a new free-trade agreement – to look to American business “as a priority export market post-Brexit. Current market conditions and their effects must be adequately analyzed prior to implementation of this rule.”

Questions? Tips? Contact Bill Tomson at