Slowly but surely, President Joe Biden is getting his Cabinet positions filled even as he gets ready to sign the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the massive stimulus package the House cleared on Wednesday.

Michael Regan won confirmation on a 66-34 vote Wednesday evening, several hours after the Senate also approved Merrick Garland’s nomination as attorney general, 70-30. Longtime House Agriculture Committee member Marcia Fudge, who had hoped to become agriculture secretary, was confirmed as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Biofuel groups were fast out of the gate to praise Regan’s confirmation. They’re counting on him to be an ally when it comes to implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard.

What’s next: Biden will be signing the stimulus bill on Friday. USDA will have a lot of work ahead to get it implemented on top of the to-do list they already have with the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and the COVID relief provisions enacted in December.

The new bill includes $5 billion in historic assistance for minority farmers as well as $3.6 billion that’s earmarked for aid to the food supply chain, including funds for commodity purchases and retooling of facilities.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the bill’s stimulative impact on the economy should benefit all farmers.

In their words: Republicans called the stimulus package a wasteful, “blue-state bailout” that risks triggering inflation.

But National Farmers Union said the bill “doesn’t just address our most imminently pressing economic and medical concerns – it also endeavors to change the agricultural sector for the better by redressing racial inequities in federal farm programs and increasing resilience in our food supply chain.”
Senate Ag sets stage for climate policy

The Senate Agriculture Committee holds its first hearing today on climate policy as committee leaders look toward building support for legislative action later this year.

Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow told reporters on Wednesday it will take several months for lawmakers to pull together climate legislation in part because of the work done in the ag space.

“We have a bipartisan strategy that's supported by environmentalists and agriculture and forestry on how to move forward” with developing a carbon market, she said, calling it “a very big deal to have bipartisan support.”

Take note: Ahead of today’s hearing, progressive groups opposed to ag carbon markets urged Stabenow and the rest of the committee to rethink the issue.

Instead of promoting carbon markets, Congress should expand the “existing proven and science-based programs that farmers are already familiar with, rather than investing in pollution trading schemes,” Food & Water Watch, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and 10 other groups said in a letter to committee members.

Tractor sales drive toward year over year growth

U.S. total farm tractor sales rose more than 41% in February compared to 2020, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. Tractor sales continue to get closer to reaching twelve consecutive months of growth.

“This growth streak has been going in the U.S. since April,” said Curt Blades, senior vice president of ag services at AEM.

What’s ahead: Blades said he’s closely watching bigger units, which are more dependent on the strong commodity prices, to see if this trend continues. Combine sales tumbled 18.8% in February.

Pork industry faces disruptions from California’s Prop 12

California animal welfare regulations set to take effect next year could pose major disruptions to the U.S pork industry, according to a report from Rabobank.

California’s Prop 12 regulates the amount of space allowed for breeding sows, and less than 4% of U.S. sow housing can meet the new standard, the report warns. The amount of pork available that’s compliant with the regulations could be 50% short of what California needs on Jan. 1, 2022, the report says.

Two legal challenges to the regulations are currently underway, one from the National Pork Producers Council and another from the North American Meat Institute.

Southern senators push for rice sales to Iraq

U.S. rice sales to Iraq can be erratic, but the country has not purchased any for more than a year. That has GOP Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas and other lawmakers from rice-growing states calling for a resumption in trade.

Iraq agreed in a 2016 memorandum of understanding to begin holding rice tenders for only U.S. sellers, but it was a non-binding agreement, and recent tenders have been open to sellers around the globe. Iraq’s most recent tender was for 30,000 metric tons and it was held in January. U.S. firms did not win any of the business, according to the USA Rice Federation. The last time the U.S. sold rice to Iraq in a tender was in 2019.

“The U.S.-specific rice tender under the terms of the MOU would positively impact both the Iraqi people and our American rice farmers, especially those farmers struggling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the senators said in separate letters to Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Iraq’s U.S. ambassador.

Argentine beef exports seen falling this year

Argentina, world renowned for its beef, will be producing and exporting less of it this year amid higher feed costs and rising competition out of countries like Paraguay and Uruguay, according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

The South American country is now forecast to produce 3.1 million tons of beef and export 770,000 tons of the meat in 2021. That would be a 4% and 6% decline, respectively.

He said it. “There is light at the end of this dark tunnel of this past year. We cannot let our guard down now or assume that a victory is inevitable.” – President Biden, previewing his prime-time address to the nation tonight.

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