Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack faces lawmakers this week as the House Agriculture Committee starts preparing for the next farm bill, due in 2023.

The questions at Thursday's hearing are likely to include not only the 2018 farm bill but also his implementation of pandemic relief and administration regulatory actions.

One possible issue facing lawmakers when they write the next farm bill is whether to increase Price Loss Coverage reference prices to reflect stronger commodity markets. American Farm Bureau Federation delegates adopted a resolution last week in support of higher reference prices. PLC payments are triggered when market prices fall below the reference prices. 

Vilsack also could be questioned his plans to use the Commodity Credit Corp. to test ways to develop markets for climate-related commodities and farming practices. Vilsack assured Farm Bureau members last Monday that the use of the CCC wouldn’t affect the farm bill payments that have to be made from the account. 

Vilsack, who has pledged to use his current tenure at USDA to address inequities in agriculture and past discrimination at the department, reiterated that commitment in a Friday statement marking Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“We take seriously our role as public servants with tens of thousands of employees eager and dedicated to making a fundamental difference by providing crucial services to underserved Americans,” he said.

"This sentiment is echoed in our effort to build a more diverse workforce that is more representative of the very people we serve, and to ensure at all levels an inclusive Department, where everyone is welcomed, supported, and valued.”

Last week, the Natural Resources Conservation Service announced $50 million in partnerships aimed at addressing inequity in conservation spending.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is expected to announce Tuesday whether it will hear oral arguments in the pork industry’s challenge to California’s new Proposition 12 requirements for sow housing, which took effect Jan. 1. The rules apply to all pork sold in the state, regardless of where the hogs are raised. Producer groups have asked the state to delay the effective date of the regulations for two years.

The court also could announce whether it will hear a dispute between Idaho landowners and EPA over an area of their property that the agency deemed to be wetlands.

The votes of four justices are needed to advance a case to full briefing and arguments before the court.

Also this week, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., will force a Senate showdown over the filibuster and an elections bill that has no GOP support. A change to the filibuster rules that would be needed to pass the legislation has no chance of being approved because of opposition from Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted Friday that Biden hasn’t given up on passing the legislation despite the refusal of Sinema and Manchin to break the filibuster.

“The president is going to stay at it, as you heard him say yesterday, because he believes that voting rights is a fundamental right for people across the country,” Psaki said.

Biden will hold a formal press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

After the elections legislation is dealt with, Democrats will turn to trying to move portions of the stalled Build Back Better bill that deal with climate, including $80 billion in agriculture provisions, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told Agri-Pulse last week. The separate climate package would likely include a series of biofuel tax incentives that are in the BBB bill.

Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):

Monday, Jan. 17

Federal holiday

National Biodiesel Board annual conference, through Thursday, Las Vegas. 

Tuesday, Jan. 18

Wednesday, Jan. 19

Dairy Strong Conference, through Thursday, Madison, Wisc.

Thursday, Jan. 20

10 a.m. — House Agriculture Committee hearing with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 1300 Longworth.

8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

Friday, Jan. 21

For more news, go to