Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill insist they are getting closer to a deal on President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. Sen. Joe Manchin, one of two key moderate Democrats, told reporters Thursday the talks were “making good progress.” But he also said he didn’t expect a deal “anytime soon.”

For agriculture, a key question is how much money will be in the final bill for conservation and other climate-related provisions. The House’s $3.5 trillion package has more than $90 billion for agriculture.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told reporters that she hopes that any cuts to the ag provisions will be limited. She said the ag provisions would provide “a lot of emissions reductions.”

Take note: The top Republican on the committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, told Agri-Pulse in a Washington Week in Review interview that he wouldn’t feel bound to follow those spending provisions when the committee writes the next farm bill. Boozman said he would seek input from industry stakeholders, and then “we’re going to do whatever the consensus (is) best for farmers. They may or may not be the same thing that’s in there now.”

Keep in mind: The spending proposals for climate-smart ag are broadly in line with recommendations made by the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, a largely industry coalition. 

David Scott

House Ag Chair: I’ll consider permanent farm programs

The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., promised on Thursday to work with a Republican colleague on making the farm bill commodity programs permanent law. Scott made the pledge in response to a question by a fellow Georgian on the committee, Austin Scott, who is no relation. The chairman didn’t elaborate on his thinking.

Making the Title I programs permanent would have far-reaching implications because it would ease the pressure on Congress to pass farm bills every five years or so. Under current law, a 1949 law kicks in unless Congress acts to extend the Title I commodity programs when a farm bill expires.  Allowing the 1949 law to take effect is unthinkable because of the impact it would have, most notably by dramatically increasing support prices for milk.

Boozman told Agri-Pulse he thinks it’s a good idea for Congress to regularly re-evaluate the commodity programs to see how well they are working.

FSA rejects employees’ appeal for vax exemption

The Farm Service Agency has rejected a request by an association representing FSA employees for an exemption from the federal government’s vaccine mandate.

The National Association of FSA County Office Employees asked last month that county office employees be allowed to choose regular testing instead of vaccination, but FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux said he fully supports President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring vaccines for federal employees.

“Vaccines have been proven to be safe, highly effective, easy to administer and in most cases are free of charge,” Ducheneaux said in a letter to NASCOE President Marcinda Kester, which NASCOE made public Thursday. “It is imperative that we do all that we can to protect not only the health and safety of our workforce but also the population that we serve.”

NASCOE represents about 6,700 employees nationwide. 

Vilsack offers EU olive branch on Farm to Fork

 USDA officials have long criticized the European Union’s Farm to Fork strategy for favoring organic production and strict curbs on pesticides and fertilizers, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday offered some deference to the EU plan.

Both the U.S. and EU want to cut carbon emissions as they make farming more sustainable – they’re just taking different approaches, Vilsack said in remarks at the 2021 Norman E. Borlaug International Dialogue in Des Moines.

“The key here for us to understand is that we share the same vision – the same endpoint – but there may be multiple ways to get to that endpoint,” Vilsack said. “We need to respect each other’s way of getting to that endpoint, as we’re all moving to the same place.”

US intelligence warns of climate risk

The White House released a national intelligence estimateThursday that identifies 11 countries that pose security risks because of the impact of climate change on their food supplies and other needs.

Those countries “lack the financial resources or governance capacity to adapt to climate change effects, heightening the risk of instability-induced migration and displacement flows — including to the US southern border — and increasing their already substantial needs for foreign aid and humanitarian assistance,” the report says.

The 11 countries: Afghanistan, Burma, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia and Iraq.

2021 CAST Communications Award winner Sarah Evanega

The 2021 CAST Communications Award winner, Sarah Evanega of the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University, (center) in Des Moines Thursday. Others from left: Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig: Tricia Beal, CEO of the Farm Journal Foundation; FMC’s Ryan Locke; CAST CEO Kent Schescke; and former CropLife CEO Jay Vroom.

China drives strong week for US soy exports

 The U.S. exported about 2.2 million metric tons of soybeans in the second week of October — a 30% increase from the previous week. Chinese demand was the primary factor in the big week, according to the latest trade data out of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Of that total for Oct. 8-14, the U.S. shipped about 1.7 million tons to China. Imports by the Netherlands — a key entry point for Europe — were a distant second with 127,300 tons.

The second week of October was also a big week for net sales to foreign buyers, and China was again the biggest reason. FAS reported export sales of about 2.9 million tons of U.S. soybeans for the seven-day period. Chinese companies committed to purchasing about 1.9 million tons of that total.

He said it. “We must aim at zero-emission agriculture and emission-neutral agriculture by 2030 or soon after that. But eventually it has to be negative-emission agriculture. Zero is just not enough.” - Rattan Lal, the 2020 World Food Prize laureate and a soil scientist at The Ohio State University. He was speaking at a WFP-related event, organized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.

Bill Tomson, Ben Nuelle, Steve Davies and Sara Wyant contributed to this report. 

Questions? Tips? Comments? Email Philip Brasher at