Tom Vilsack is officially wearing the title “agriculture secretary” again. He was sworn in Wednesday evening and will be talking to the media today.

Read our report, which includes an update on Vilsack’s CFAP plans, here.

House Ag starts focus on climate

A top U.S. farm leader is telling lawmakers today that the agricultural greenhouse gas emissions can be cut significantly and some sectors can reach net zero emissions.

In testimony prepared for the House Ag Committee, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall says U.S. farmers have already increased productivity by 287% over the past generations and can do a lot more to reduce emissions with the help of science.

“We can definitely reduce our carbon footprint. With cutting-edge science, we may be able to achieve net zero emissions in some sectors of agriculture,” Duvall says. (The dairy industry has already committed to net zero.)

Take note: Duvall is appealing to the committee to make sure foreign sustainability standards don’t become barriers to U.S. exports. That’s a clear reference to the European Union’s Farm to Fork initiative.

Keep in mind: Today’s hearing is just the first step in congressional work on ag climate policy this year. A new version of the Growing Climate Solutions Act is expected to be released soon.

FACA leaders stress need for bipartisanship on climate

Leaders of the fast-growing Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance are stressing the need for climate legislation to be bipartisan to ensure long-term success.

“I am seeing a real appetite on Capitol Hill for bipartisan climate legislation,” Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said during the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture winter conference. But Krupp stressed that the bill needs support from both parties to have lasting power.

Chuck Conner, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, expressed confidence that Congress would pass a climate bill. “My radar is telling me that Congress is going to legislate here. They are going to do something on climate change because it’s being demanded, and we’re ready to bring this together in a bipartisan way.”

NASDA panel endorses higher THC level for hemp

NASDA appears ready today to endorse a higher THC level for hemp to give growers more flexibility.

NASDA’s 22-member Plant Agriculture & Pesticide Regulation Committee voted unanimously Wednesday (with two abstentions) to support an amendment to the 2018 farm bill definition of hemp that would raise the allowable THC level from 0.3% to 1%.

That change would result in fewer growers unintentionally producing a “hot” crop that would be considered marijuana under federal law. It would also allow for greater use of available seed varieties, according to the panel.

Take note: Vermont had to destroy about half its crop last year because of the existing limit, and there is broad support in the industry for raising it. Florida Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried called the 0.3% level “arbitrary” and Colorado Deputy Ag Commissioner Steve Silverman said, “no one’s going to get high from consuming hemp that has as much as 1% THC.”

The full NASDA membership votes on policy amendments today.

Tai: We’ll be tough on China, enforce USMCA

Katharine Tai, President Biden’s pick for U.S. trade representative, is pledging today to hold China accountable for its promises, and she says she’ll ensure that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement is fully implemented.

In the opening statement for her Senate confirmation hearing, Tai says it’s "critically important” to “have a strategic and coherent plan” for confronting China. But she also cautions against alienating the Chinese. “China is simultaneously a rival, a trade partner, and an outsized player whose cooperation we’ll also need to address certain global challenges. We must remember how to walk, chew gum and play chess at the same time.”

As for USMCA, she promises to “make it a priority to implement and enforce” the terms of the new trade pact.

Take note: Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao says his country wants to follow up on the goodwill expressed in a recent discussion between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping by creating stronger cooperation in trade and other areas.

"I look forward to joint efforts with our U.S. colleagues to follow the spirit of the phone call between the presidents of the two countries, stepping up communications, enhancing understanding, focusing on cooperation and managing differences to push bilateral economic and trade relations back on a cooperative track," Wang said Wednesday, as reported by Xinhua, a Chinese state media outlet.

Farm groups endorse debt relief

Several farm groups, including the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, are signaling support for elements of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package Democrats are pushing through Congress, including the $5 billion in provisions for minority farmers.

The help for minority producers, which includes payments to retire any USDA loans they have, “will better ensure that all producers can come out of the pandemic ready to feed, clothe and fuel their fellow Americans and billions of people across the globe.”

The National Milk Producers Federation and Organic Trade Association also announced support for the aid to minority farmers.

But, but but: A leading critic of the debt relief provision, Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., plans to bring attention to it with a pair of amendments he’s proposing for floor debate. One would make all women eligible for loan forgiveness. Women farmers are currently classified by USDA as “socially disadvantaged,” but the definition used in the bill would limit the loan payoffs to ethnic minorities.

Read our report on the issue here.

Take note: Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says Democrats will strip from the stimulus package a GOP amendment that was adopted in committee to provide special disaster relief to farmers hit by last year’s derecho.

Winter storm sinks weekly ethanol production

The ethanol industry saw its lowest weekly output of production last week since May 2020 due to the severe winter weather, and it could be another week before plants get back to normal.

According to Energy Information Administration data, ethanol production dropped 28% to 27.6 million gallons per day for the week ending Feb. 19.

“Electricity outages, major natural gas market disruptions, and transportation issues forced many ethanol producers to reduce output rates by 40% or more. Some were forced to fully idle,” Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper.

He said it. “The last thing we need is some political football that is passed with just 50 votes.” – Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, on the need for a bipartisan climate bill.

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher at