An end is finally in sight in the wait for a new agriculture secretary. The Senate has scheduled action for Feb. 23 on Tom Vilsack's nomination to return for a second stint at the head of USDA. 
That means that USDA will go more than a month without a Senate-confirmed secretary to make the critical decisions needed to move forward with President Joe Biden's agenda for the department. 
Farm wages up 6%
The USDA survey that will be used to set the 2021 minimum wage rates for the H-2A program shows farmworker pay rose 6% last year on average. 
As usual, there is considerable variation in wage increases from region to region. For example, wage hikes were lower than the national average in Florida and across the Southeast. But increases were significantly higher than the national average in many states, including Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and much of the West. In California, the average wage rose more than 9%, from $16.15 in 2019 to $17.64 in 2020. 
The survey is normally released in November, but it was delayed this year. The Trump administration initially killed the survey only to be ordered by a judge to reinstate it. 
Baldwin takes reins on Ag Approps
The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which writes annual budgets for USDA and FDA, is under new leadership. Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin is taking over as chairwoman.
John Hoeven, R-N.D., will be the subcommittee’s ranking Republican. 
Two other Democrats joining the subcommittee are Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. There’s one new Republican, Indiana’s Mike Braun.
By the way: Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley had been the top Democrat on the Ag panel. He’ll now chair the Interior-Environment subcommittee, which is responsible for the Interior Department, EPA and the Forest Service.
Milk producers praise Baldwin's appointment

One of the first farm groups to congratulate Baldwin was the National Milk Producers Federation. NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern called her “an effective champion for dairy farmers in Wisconsin and beyond.”

“She has fervently fought for dairy’s good name in the face of FDA’s unwillingness to enforce clear, simple dairy product terms,” Mulhern said. “She also has played a key role in efforts to positively reform dairy policy and tirelessly worked on the appropriations committee to champion dairy innovation, as well as initiatives to combat farmer stress in rural America.”

Ethanol conference looks ahead after rough year
A leading biofuel group heads into its annual conference looking at opportunities ahead despite production still below year-ago levels. The National Ethanol Conference begins virtually today.

Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper says ethanol production is still running 10% to 15% below pre-pandemic levels.
“We still have a ways to go but I have to be honest, we feel really good about how far the industry has come to recover from what we saw last spring,” Cooper told Agri-Pulse.
Moving ahead, Cooper thinks the Biden administration can optimize the carbon-reducing potential of the Renewable Fuel Standard as it looks for ways to mitigate climate change.
He pointed to an RFA commissioned study released Friday showing carbon intensity of corn-based ethanol is now 45% below the carbon intensity of gasoline.
Ag’s share of GHG emissions rose in 2019

The share of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emission in the U.S. increased to about 9.6% in 2019 from 9.3% in 2018, according to EPA’s annual report, released Friday.

The increased percentage resulted from higher emissions from agriculture and lower emissions overall. EPA reported GHG emissions dropped 1.7% from 2018 to 2019. Emissions from fossil fuel combustion fell 2.7% between 2018 and 2019, but still accounted for about 74% of all emissions.

Nitrous oxide emissions from soil management made up 58% of all agricultural emissions, methane from cow burps about 28%, and manure management about 10%.

The report also noted that ag soils alone accounted for 75% of all nitrous oxide emissions and 5.2% of total GHG emissions in the U.S. Nitrous oxide has a global warming potential nearly 300 times that of carbon dioxide.

Philippines considers opening border to more US pork

The Philippines’ government is working on a plan to open up its border to more pork imports as the country contends with shortages and consumer complaints about high prices, according to the National Pork Producers Council.

“This latest proposal comes on the heels of NPPC’s recent meeting with the Philippines Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez,” says the group representing U.S. producers. “NPPC has been working with the Philippines’ government for more than a year to negotiate an expansion of the quota and lower pork import tariffs. NPPC welcomes the government’s proposal, as the Philippines holds tremendous market opportunities for U.S. pork exports.”
The current quota is 54,000 metric tons, but the government is proposing to increase that to 400,000 tons.
He said it: “Most people would assume it should be the politician who should be in a jail cell,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D. Johnson was commenting on the prison-like brick wall behind  Agri-Pulse’s Spencer Chase during a webinar Friday.

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