The Biden administration is starting to build support for its $2.25 trillion infrastructure package during the congressional break. White House officials held an off-the-record briefing for ag and rural groups on the American Jobs Plan Thursday, and President Joe Biden tasked five Cabinet officials with selling the proposal to lawmakers and the public.

Notably missing from the group, given the White House’s emphasis on the plan’s benefits to rural areas, is Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The five Cabinet members that Biden did pick are Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the five the “Jobs Cabinet.”

Their job: “Working with my team here in the White House, these Cabinet members will represent me in dealing with Congress, engage the public in selling the plan, and help work out the details as we refine it and move forward,” Biden said.

By the way: Biden ordered all of his Cabinet secretaries to report back on how their departments’ spending lines up with his Buy American standards.

Pelosi eyes May for bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that much of the House version of the infrastructure plan will be written in early May.

Pelosi also says she is sympathetic to some House Democrats who are demanding that the bill eliminate or raise the cap on state and local tax deductions. That’s a big issue for high-tax areas of the East and West coasts.

There’s no sign that Republicans are willing to negotiate with Democrats on the legislation, given that the president is proposing to pay for it with corporate tax increases. Republicans argue the tax increases will drive jobs overseas, although the proposal is designed to try to prevent that from happening.

“A Senate evenly split between both parties and a bare Democratic House majority are hardly a mandate to ‘go it alone,’ tweeted Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. “The President should live up to the bipartisanship he preached in his inaugural address.”

Carbon labeling standard in the works

One of the challenges facing farmers when it comes to addressing climate change is the lack of uniform labeling standards for products. Now, the global standards organization ASTM International is developing a standard for a carbon intensity score that farmers and ranchers can use.

The standard could in turn be used for labeling any number of products, including aviation fuels, cereal, meat, dairy products and clothing.

ASTM board member Rina Singh says it appears to be the only effort to develop a carbon-intensity standard that would provide the basis for a valid seal and certification process.

USDA to speed up imports of ‘specialty’ sugar

America’s sweet tooth is bigger than expected this year, so USDA is moving up the schedule for imports in an effort to meet demand of “organic sugar and other specialty sugars not currently produced commercially in the United States or reasonably available from domestic sources.”

Last July, USDA announced it would allow imports of 141, 656 metric tons of specialty sugar imports during fiscal 2021 and set a schedule for five tranches of imports spread throughout the year.

The fifth and final tranche of 30,000 tons was scheduled to begin July 15 for products such as vanilla sugar, molasses and caster sugar. But USDA announced Thursday that will be moved up to April 15.

China pushes latest weekly pork export sales to new high in 2021

USDA’s latest weekly export sales report for March 19-25 hit a new marketing-year high thanks to substantial purchases from China. USDA reported 61,000 metric tons of export sales for the seven-day period, and China was responsible for nearly half that business.

The Chinese committed to buy 29,700 metric tons of U.S. pork, and the U.S. shipped 11,900 tons of product to buyers in China during the week. Mexico was the second-largest buyer for the week with purchases of 15,800 tons and the U.S. shipped 9,900 tons of pork to Mexican importers.

Study: Climate change has already cut ag output

Global farming productivity is 21% lower than it could have been without climate change, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change.

“We find that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years,” said Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, an agricultural economist at Cornell University. “It is equivalent to pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013 and experiencing no improvements since then.”

The global results “conceal sizeable regional and cross-country disparities,” the study says. “The cumulative impact of man-made climate change since 1961 is greater for warm regions such as Africa (−34%), the Near East and North Africa (−30%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (−25.9%) than for cooler regions such as North America (−12.5%) and Europe and Central Asia (−7.1%).”

The "findings raise the question of whether current levels of investments in agricultural research are sufficient to sustain twentieth-century rates of productivity growth in the 21st century,” the study says.

USDA reverses, expands SNAP benefits

Reversing a Trump administration policy, USDA announced Thursday night that it will provide additional SNAP benefits to households that did not receive congressionally authorized emergency allotments because they were already at or close to receiving the maximum benefit.

Lawsuits challenging the Trump administration policy were settled in Pennsylvania and California this week, paving the way for USDA to issue new guidance to states and territories on SNAP emergency allotments, “which will allow participants to gain access to additional benefits,” USDA spokesperson Matt Herrick said.

The department says that 40% of the affected households have children, 20% include someone who is elderly, and 15% include someone who is disabled.

He said it. “It is beyond time, past time, to do immigration reform.” – Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., visiting the Texas-Mexico border on Thursday. He said that should include a pathway to citizenship to Dreamers.

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