The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack are taking exception to the white farmers who are challenging a debt relief program for minority producers.

House Agriculture Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., told reporters Wednesday the lawsuits seeking to halt the program are “a racist attack on this nation.”

Scott, who is Black, expressed hope that the federal courts would eventually throw out complaints that the $4 billion program is unconstitutional.

Vilsack separately criticized the lawsuits in remarks that were pre-recorded and presented Wednesday at a biotech industry event.

What’s next: Vilsack said he hopes to have all the minority farmer debts paid off by the end of the year, although a federal judge in Wisconsin last week issued a temporary restraining order halting payments.

The government will file a brief Friday opposing the Wisconsin farmers’ motion for more lasting injunctive relief. Similar lawsuits are pending in at least five other states, including Texas and Florida.

Earlier: Scott said at a hearing Wednesday morning that he was working on legislation to make permanent a four-year scholarship program for Historically Black Colleges and Universities that he helped get in the 2018 farm bill.

USDA wants comments on unjust treatment

USDA wants to hear about specific examples of unjust treatment in any of its programs as it works to address historical racial inequities and the needs of underserved communities.

The department asked in a Federal Register notice Wednesday for comments by July 15 “on any and all interactions with USDA programs.”

Among the questions the department wants answers to: “Have you experienced injustice, inequity or unfairness in one or more USDA programs?” and “Are there USDA policies, practices, or programs that perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color or other underserved groups?”

USDA also will be forming a racial equity commission in the coming months to address “systemic impediments to equity in USDA programs.”

Groups press Congress for national clean fuel policy

Over 20 groups are asking the House and Senate to begin working on a national clean fuel policy to help decarbonize the transportation fuel sector.

The groups made the appeal in a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works Committees. “A strong national clean fuels policy that sends clear long-term and durable signals will encourage rapidly growing investment in the technologies needed to simultaneously reduce criteria and carbon pollution in all communities across America,” the groups wrote.

The groups that signed the letter include the National Corn Growers Association and Renewable Fuels Association.

Keep in mind: There are signs of progress on a bipartisan infrastructure package, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is preparing to move other elements of President Joe Biden’s proposal in a partisan reconciliation measure. That bill would include climate-related provisions, Schumer said.

Trucking relief included in transportation bill

A surface transportation bill headed to the Senate will include a provision sought by livestock producers – a back-end, 150 air-mile exemption from hours-of-service limits. The provision was added to the bill with the approval of Senate Commerce Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wa., and ranking Republican Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

The 150-mile exemption would apply to the destination of a trip, building on an existing exemption based on the trip’s origin.

"When one-size-fits-all government regulations fail to account for expertise on the ground, livestock haulers are put in the impossible position of either complying with regulations or doing what they know is best for the humane and safe transportation of live animals," said Allison Rivera, executive director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Immigration reform remains tough sell with Senate Rs

Despite a fresh push from ag groups and farmworker groups, it’s still going to be hard to get GOP support for an ag labor reform bill this year.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, made that clear Wednesday. “Until there is something done at the border, I don’t think you’ll have any immigration reform,” Grassley told reporters.

Several ag and labor groups met Wednesday with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Ag Secretary Vilsack Wednesday. Crapo and Bennet soon hope to introduce a companion bill to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that passed the House in March.
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Interior uncertain on 30x30 calculation

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland says her department still hasn’t decided how it’s going to measure progress toward President Biden’s goal of conserving 30% of U.S. land by 2030. But as with USDA, she said working lands will count toward the 30x30 target.

“We know we’ve worked out a partnership with tribes, states, private landowners, folks who are contributing to this goal. We intend for working lands to be a part of the 30x30,” she told Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, at a hearing Wednesday.

“Once we’re able to come to an idea about how to count the progress,” Haaland added, “I think that will answer a lot of the questions that you have.”

US sorghum exports to continue strong in 2021-22

 U.S. sorghum exports in the current 2020-21 marketing year are moving at a rapid pace – thanks primarily to rising demand from China – and shipments are expected to continue to be strong through 2021-22, according to a new analysis by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

FAS estimates U.S. exports for the 2020-21 marketing year will total 7.8 million metric tons, valued at $2.4 billion.

That would make it the highest total since 2015-16, but the forecast for 2021-22 is even higher: FAS forecasts the U.S. will export about 9 million tons. More than 1.6 million tons of new crop sorghum have already been sold for export, and more than half of that is destined for China.

He said it. “I think every schoolchild in America wonders how their parents’ generation could let this happen.” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., on the loss of Western monarch butterfly populations.

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