The House is close to finishing work on a seven-bill package of fiscal 2022 spending measures needed to fund USDA, EPA and other departments and agencies important to agriculture. 

On Tuesday evening, House members approved a block of amendments that included a $5.3 million increase for field staff at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., said the increase would “help crop and livestock producers implement conservation practices that help their bottom lines.”

Other amendments that were OKed would expand the number of communities eligible for rural broadband grants and loans, and increase staffing for USDA Rural Development by $2 million.

Keep in mind: The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to release its FY22 bills.

USDA’s congressional liaison picked

Adrienne Wojciechowski, a former aide to the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, is President Biden’s pick as USDA’s assistant secretary for congressional relations. Wojciechowski also served as an aide to the Senate Judiciary Committee and to Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt.

Check out this week's Agri-Pulse newsletter for our analysis of the pace of nominations in the Biden administration at USDA and in other agencies and departments critical to agriculture.USDA beef inspector

Lawmakers hear cattle market, supply chain concerns

The Senate Judiciary Committee today will be examining competition challenges in the food supply chain.

The committee’s top Republican, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, told reporters he hoped the hearing would provide further evidence about the lack of competition in the cattle markets That, in turn, will help shape legislation that could be attached to a reauthorization measure for USDA's livestock price reporting program, he said.

The hearing witnesses include representatives of packing giants Tyson Foods and JBS as well as an Iowa cattle producer and a policy expert from Consumer Reports.

By the way: A House Ag subcommittee is also holding a hearing today on the state of the beef supply chain.

USDA offers crop insurance flexibility

USDA is authorizing crop insurance providers to extend deadlinesfor farmers to pay premiums and administrative fees, and to defer and waive any interest that would accrue.

“Farmers and ranchers are weathering tough drought conditions this year, and we want to help ease the burden by extending payment deadlines and deferring interest accrual,” said the Risk Management Agency’s acting administrator, Richard Flournoy.

Take note: The House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday approved a disaster bill that expands on provisions of the WHIP programs that covered losses in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The new bill would authorize up to $8.5 billion for 2020 and 2021 losses.

The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, John Hoeven of North Dakota, tells Agri-Pulsehe’s helping with similar legislation in the Senate and also is pushing USDA to provide more flexibility with existing disaster programs.

Senate readies BLM nominee for floor vote

Tracy Stone-Manning, the Biden administration’s nominee for director of the Bureau of Land Management, cleared her first hurdle toward confirmation when the Senate voted 50-49 Tuesday evening to discharge her nomination from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The next step is a floor vote on the nomination itself.

At a hearing earlier Tuesday before the same committee, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said she expected that if confirmed, Stone-Manning would enforce the laws that apply to BLM lands.

But Haaland also said that while she believes Stone-Manning is qualified for the position, “She is the president’s nominee. I didn’t nominate her. I am here to move the department forward on the president’s priorities.”

Stone-Manning has been under fire for her involvement in a tree-spiking incident on a national forest in Idaho in 1989, as well as for comments she has made about wildfires and grazing on public lands.

By the way: Haaland also answered questions about the administration’s plan to conserve 30% of the nation’s waters and land by 2030, the 30x30 initiative. She told Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., that she expects the conservation effort will be “in large part” voluntary.

Sen. Mike Crapo

Sen. Mike Crapo

Crapo says Mexico promises to open to US potatoes

 The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Idaho’s Mike Crapo, says Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Economy Secretary Tatiana Clouthier have both assured him personally that the country is moving forward on regulations that will open up all of Mexico to imports of U.S. potatoes.

Mexico’s Supreme Court issued a ruling in April that would allow the Mexican government to lift a barrier to fresh U.S. potatoes, but that has not happened yet. Mexico is now only partially open to U.S. potatoes, allowing them to be sold within 26 kilometers, or 16 miles, of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I won’t consider the matter finished until our farmers are able to sell high-quality potatoes to every family in Mexico,” Crapo said during a Finance Committee hearing on implementation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

Brazil’s second crop corn harvest picks up steam

The harvest of Brazil’s second-crop corn is still way behind schedule, but farmers in the Center-South – the primary growing region – are picking up the pace, according to the consulting firm AgRural. The Center-South is now 39% harvested, up from just 30% a week ago thanks to significant progress in the states of Mato Grosso, São Paulo, Goiás and Minas Gerais.

The region was 53% harvested at this time a year ago, when production was much stronger and weather conditions were better.

AgRural cut its forecast for the entire second-crop corn harvest earlier this month to 59.1 million tons, a drop from 75.1 million tons last year. The firm says it will revise that estimate in early August.

She said it.  “I am going to do my level best to ensure that we are doing everything humanly possible to make sure that fires don’t burn down our communities and people’s homes.” - Deb Haaland, Interior Secretary, at a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

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