Following a failed attempt by the Trump administration to freeze farmworker wages for two years, the Labor Department is proposing to go back to setting minimum wage rates for foreign workers the same way it had been for 30 years.

The department says in a proposal in today’s Federal Register that “for the vast majority” of H-2A jobs, it plans to rely on USDA’s Farm Labor Survey to establish the Adverse Effect Wage Rates.

Why it matters: The latest semi-annual USDA survey, released last week, says farmworkers earned an average of $16.59 an hour in October, a 5% increase from the year before. The average wage varied from a low of $12.40 in the Southeast to $18.84 in California. farmworker and apples

Farmers’ view: Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, says the Biden administration’s plan “would continue to artificially manufacture” an AEWR using the average gross wages reported by USDA. The department includes holiday bonuses and overtime in its wage calculations, he said.

“The proposal will provide even more economic incentive to offshore U.S. food production to the detriment of U.S. national security,” Marsh said.

House vote seen near on ag shipping

Congressional aides tell Agri-Pulse it’s likely the House next week will approve a popular bipartisan bill that could help get ag commodity exports on ships despite bottlenecks at some of the biggest U.S. ports.

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2021 is expected to be voted on under suspension of the rules, an expedited process that requires a two-thirds majority for passage.

Why it matters: The bill would stop ocean carrier companies from allowing Chinese exporters to pay for containers to return empty instead of filling up with Asian-bound U.S. rice, almonds, pork, beef, apples and other ag commodities.

Reps. John Garamendi, D-Calif., and Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., introduced the bill in August. More than 100 ag groups and companies are backing the measure.

Hill optimism on averting shutdown, debt ceiling

Congressional leaders have yet to announce a deal to keep the government funded after Friday or to raise the federal debt ceiling. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was offering assurances Tuesday that there will be no government shutdown and that the debt limit would get increased.

The continuing resolution that has been funding the government since the 2022 fiscal year started Oct. 1 expires on Friday. Appropriators are nowhere close to agreeing on the fiscal 2022 spending legislation, but lawmakers have been discussing a new CR that would extend through January.

Meanwhile: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., continues to say he wants to move President Biden’s Build Back Better spending package this month. He said Tuesday that it was his “goal” to get a bill that could pass the Senate by Christmas.

Both Schumer and McConnell met privately Tuesday with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. The discussions were said to have focused on climate and energy issues.

Katherine Tai
Katherine Tai

Grassley: Indo-Pacific deal could counter China

A top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, says he’s open to the idea of an Indo-Pacific agreement that would be an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the U.S. withdrew from under then-President Trump.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai explored the possibility of the Indo-Pacific framework during her recent trip to Asia.

“The outline of it sounds like something we should be doing, particularly if it’s ganging up on China,” Grassley told reporters. TPP also was designed to curb China’s global influence, he noted.

Senators push for milk pricing reforms

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is introducing legislation that would require USDA to hold hearings on reforms to the milk pricing formula in federal marketing orders even though the industry remains sharply divided over the issue.

Gillibrand, who scheduled a news conference on the issue today, has support from Vermont Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy and Maine Republican Susan Collins.

Keep in mind: The Biden administration’s offer of pandemic assistance to dairy producers, coupled with a return to more normal markets, has reduced the urgency of the issue for many in the industry.

Hunger soars in Latin America amid pandemic

Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean skyrocketed by 30% in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hammered the region, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Nearly 60 million people in the region were undernourished, an increase of 13.8 million from 2019.

An estimated 267 million in the region experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020. That’s an increase of 60 million people, or 9%, over 2019.

He said it. “We’re going to get this bill done with 50 Democrats before Christmas. That’s our goal.” - Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on prospects for the Build Back Better legislation.

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