Former House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson is gearing up to join the upcoming congressional debate about climate and farm policy. Peterson tells Agri-Pulse he’s talking to several firms about consulting roles, but he indicated he’s not in a rush to sign up.

“I want to stay involved in a positive way in farm policy. I think I have something to offer,” he said. “I want to do what I can to help agriculture help rural America, to help farmers. And I'm trying to figure out what would be the best platform to do that.”

Why it matters: There are few rural House Democrats with a lot of experience in farm policy. Peterson does, and he has deep connections with farm groups and is a veteran of the 2009 battle over cap and trade. Count on him pushing the Conservation Reserve Program as a key way to reduce carbon emissions.

For more on CRP, including what Peterson thinks should be done about its flagging enrollment, be sure and read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter.

Tai confirmation as USTR seen before Easter recess

Katherine Tai isn’t a controversial choice to be President Biden’s U.S. trade representative, but the Senate isn’t likely to vote on her nomination until late March, just before lawmakers go on their Easter recess. That’s the word from Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees trade policy.

The committee has a busy schedule that includes first considering Biden’s nomination of Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, said Grassley. He said that he has already interviewed her and found her “very satisfactory.”    

By the way: Grassley expects Michael Regan, Biden’s pick as EPA administrator, to get his Senate confirmation vote next week or the following week.

Grassley invites climate czar to Midwest

Grassley is inviting Biden’s climate czar to see firsthand how ag producers are helping improve the environment and mitigate climate change.

“Instead of pointing the finger, I am hoping we can again work together and learn from each other,” Grassley says in a letter inviting Gina McCarthy (above) to his farm. McCarthy, a former EPA administrator who famously clashed with farm groups over the Obama-era “waters of the U.S.” rule, is now overseeing climate policy for the White House.

The invite comes after Grassley learned of comments made by McCarthy earlier this month, saying the administration must get the middle of the country “understanding and active on climate.”

AFBF calculates H-2A wage rates

Based on USDA’s new Farm Labor Survey, the minimum H-2A wage rates this year will range from $11.81 in the southeastern states of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina to $16.34 in Oregon and Washington, according to an analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation. California’s rate will be $16.05, while Florida’s will be $12.08.

Read the rest of the analysis here.

By the way:  The Equitable Food Initiative has relaunched its Responsible Recruitment Scorecard, an interactive self-assessment tool designed to help growers avoid using forced labor. EDI’s leadership includes growers, farmworker advocates and a representative of Costco, which helped found the group.

An anti-trafficking organization, the Polaris Project, claims 41% of human trafficking reports come from “workers with temporary work visas come from H-2A workers in agriculture, and of those, the majority are in the fresh produce industry.”

FDA reacts to report of baby food contaminants

FDA is trying to assure the public that it’s working on the issue of heavy metals in baby foods after a congressional report found the products contain significant levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.

“Our goal is to reduce exposure to toxic elements in foods to the greatest extent feasible and to further advance progress in this area through more research and enhanced collaboration among stakeholders,” FDA says. The agency says its efforts on arsenic have resulted in lower levels of that element in infant rice cereal.

The report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee said FDA has failed to regulate lead levels in baby foods, and that its arsenic “action levels” are not strong enough to begin with and cover just a “small sliver” of baby food.

GM defends drive toward EVs

A representative of General Motors defended the automaker’s move toward phasing out gasoline and diesel engines when questioned at the National Ethanol Conference on Tuesday.

Tom Van Heeke, policy lead for General Motors, said the company’s future “is an all-electric one” and something that has been in the making for years.

“While we think for our business – for light-duty vehicles, ultimately a fully electrified future is the future for us (but) we recognize there are going to be other applications that make the most sense, even within our own broader portfolio,” he said.

Van Heeke said the move comes after seeing battery costs decline over the last decade. He said ethanol and synthetic liquid fuels will still have a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Brazil soy harvest picks up steam

Good weather conditions throughout Brazil are boosting the pace of the country’s soybean harvest, although it’s still far behind the harvesting rate last year, according to the consulting firm AgRural.

The Brazilian crop – which is still expected to reach more than 131 million metric tons – was 9% harvested as of last Thursday. That’s up from 4% from a week prior, but below the five-year average of 20% for this time of year.

“The pace is driven by (the state of) Mato Grosso, where producers accelerated their work last week, supported by drier weather and rushed by the forecast of large volumes of rain for the second half of February,” AgRural said.

He said it. “Iowans know a thing or two about resilience.” – Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, telling reporters his state didn’t need to be educated about resilience to climate change.

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