USDA’s top climate adviser, Robert Bonnie, says agriculture and forestry are going to figure in any new climate commitments that the United States makes to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“USDA has a lot to offer as you think about putting forward a target,” Bonnie said, referring to the potential for agriculture and forestry to help offset fossil fuel emissions. He was speaking at the annual Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit.

President Joe Biden has indicated that he’ll release a new U.S. commitment around a climate summit in April. The White House hasn’t said how far Biden will go. Environmentalists and others are pushing the administration to pledge to slash U.S. emissions by half by 2030.

The Paris climate agreement aimed to reduce global emissions enough to limit increases in warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. Many of the pledges corporations are making to cut the emissions in their supply chains are built around meeting the Paris target

By the way: Bonnie didn’t shed any new light on USDA’s plans for starting an ag carbon bank. But he said there could be a role for USDA in supporting credit prices by “purchasing credits and essentially retiring them.”

What to do about the ‘early adopters’

One of the biggest questions around carbon markets is what to do about farmers who can’t get credits for climate-friendly practices they’ve already been using, such as conservation tillage and cover crops. Bonnie says the question of how to reward those early adopters needs to be addressed.

“This is an area where a conversation with agriculture and forestry about how to do this is going to be really important. I think we want to get the mix of incentives right,” Bonnie said.

Keep in mind: Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa warned of staunch opposition from farm groups if early adopters aren’t rewarded in some way. “Anything that’s going to leave behind farmers that have already been doing that is going to be very unfair,” he told reporters Tuesday.

The Food and Ag Climate Alliance, a coalition that includes many major farm groups, has recommended the government make one-time payments to early adopters.

Boozman seeking changes in climate bill

The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, John Boozman, says he’s been working with Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow on changes to a key climate bill that is expected to be reintroduced shortly. The Growing Climate Solutions Act, first introduced last spring, is designed to lay the groundwork for private ag carbon markets by authorizing USDA to certify credit verification services.

Speaking at the Agri-Pulse summit, Boozman said the changes the bill needed include reworking a USDA advisory committee that he said would have too little farmer representation. “We want to make sure that the program is set up so this can be successful,” he said.

By the way: The American Farm Bureau Federation’s chief economist, John Newton, is joining Boozman’s staff.

Don’t Miss: Today’s summit speakers will include Stabenow and EPA Administrator Michael Regan. Please join us at noon for the final sessions.

Lawmakers being urged to tighten school nutrition standards

As Congress starts working on a child nutrition reauthorization bill, public health advocates are urging lawmakers to tighten nutrition standards for school meals. A letter going to Capitol Hill on Thursday says the bill should empower USDA to update the existing standards “to align with the recently-released dietary guidelines for Americans and provide resources to help schools successfully transition back to following the evidenced-based meal pattern.”

The groups backing the letter include the American Heart Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Some groups want USDA to set a limit on added sugars.

For more on the issues that will be at play with child nutrition reauthorization, be sure and read our Agri-Pulse newsletter.

USTR Tai invites Mexico, Canada to USMCA summit

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Wednesday asked Mexican Economy Secretary Tatiana Clouthier to join in on a USMCA Free Trade Commission meeting “in the near future” that Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng already agreed to on Monday.

The calls to Clouthier and Ng are part of Tai’s first outreach efforts after her confirmation last week. The three will have plenty to talk about as frustration grows in the U.S. over allegations that Mexico is erecting trade barriers to cheese, potatoes and corn. Meanwhile, the U.S. has already begun the process that could lead to a dispute over claims that Canada is cheating on its promise to create new quotas for U.S. dairy.

Biden environmental picks get committee votes today

Two of Biden’s top environmental nominees – Brenda Mallory as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and Janet McCabe as EPA deputy administrator – will be considered today by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

CEQ alerted reporters Monday to letters endorsing Mallory, including from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and environmental justice leaders.

The vote comes a day after EPW member and Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, angered by the dearth of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the Biden cabinet, vowed to vote against any “non-diversity” nominees on the Senate floor. In other words, she will vote only for racial minority or LGBTQ nominees. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, is joining Duckworth in that pledge.

Mallory is African-American; McCabe is white and married to a man.

Judge grants tentative OK in price-fixing settlement

A federal judge has given preliminary approval to separate agreements requiring broiler chicken processors to pay consumers $104 million to settle price-fixing allegations.

At $99 million, the largest payment will come from Tyson Foods, with the rest of the total to be paid by Peco Foods, Fieldale Farms and George’s Inc.

Each of the agreements includes cooperation pledges from the companies as the litigation proceeds against remaining defendants, including Koch Foods. Tyson, for instance, pledged to produce up to three current or former employees as witnesses.

He said it. “Regulation is not bad. But too much regulation is bad.” - Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.

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