The reported retirement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will give President Joe Biden his first — and perhaps only — opportunity to fill a Supreme Court seat.

A leading candidate is believed to be Ketanji Brown Jackson, an African American judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which hears cases involving decisions by government agencies. Biden pledged in February 2020 to put a Black woman on the high court, and he reaffirmed that commitment on Wednesday, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

Take note: Jackson has not authored any opinions at the appeals court, but as a federal district judge issued a decision in 2013 upholding country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) regulations that had been challenged by the meat industry. (The D.C. Circuit affirmed her ruling the next year, but Congress rescinded the COOL requirements for beef and pork in late 2015; the U.S. was facing trade retaliation if the rules stayed on the books.) 

Ketanji Brown Jackson

Ketanji Brown Jackson

In her decision, Jackson rejected claims by the North American Meat Institute and other plaintiffs that the regulations violated the First Amendment by forcing them to disclose production step information.

In 2015, Jackson ruled against Food & Water Watch, finding the advocacy group didn’t have legal standing to sue USDA over its New Poultry Inspection System. The appeals court affirmed her decision.

By the way: Three Republicans voted with Democrats to confirm her to the D.C. Circuit last year, suggesting she’d have a strong chance of getting confirmed to the Supreme Court.

GOP lawmakers speak up for packers

Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee are coming to the defense of meat processors against White House claims that they are partly responsible for inflation. The Republicans argue that meatpackers are dealing with the same labor shortages and spikes in production costs that other business sectors are.

“Attempting to pass the buck for inflation onto meatpackers is dishonest and denies reality,” the lawmakers say in a “fact check.”

Take note: Several Ways and Means Republicans hail from cattle country, including Adrian Smith of Nebraska, Ron Estes of Kansas and Jodey Arrington of Texas.

The GOP salvo comes as the Democratic chairman of a House oversight subcommittee this week demanded four major processors turn over records on their price increases.

USDA makes another try to meet CRP cap

USDA is reopening the general signup for the Conservation Reserve Program on Jan. 31 with the stated goal of reaching the acreage limit set by the 2018 farm bill. The program is capped at 25.5 million acres for fiscal 2022 and 27 million acres for 2023.

There are only 22.1 million acres currently enrolled in CRP, and contracts on 4 million acres of those are scheduled to expire at the end of September. An additional 2 million acres expire in 2023. Chesapeake Bay wetlands

Meanwhile, commodity prices remain at relatively high levels, making it a tough decision for many landowners to take acreage out of production.

CRP acreage ticked up in 2021, thanks to new incentives that helped USDA sign up 4.6 million acres. But enrollment had declined every year since 2007.

Why it matters: CRP is a key part of the Biden administration’s plan to use agriculture to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Take note: The deadline for the general signup is March 11.

EPA signals new direction on Chesapeake Bay cleanup

EPA seems to be taking a new approach to cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, with regional administrator Adam Ortiz’s statement this week that state nutrient reduction goals set for 2025 are “a commitment.”

His predecessor in the Trump administration had called the goals in the federal-state bay blueprint “an aspiration.”

“We are going to fulfill our role here at EPA, holding states accountable,” Ortiz said at the Maryland Environmental Legislative Summit, where he also mentioned the progress Maryland has made on cover crops.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation praised Ortiz’s remarks but said EPA will have to take “meaningful and swift action” in order to resolve lawsuits filed by CBF and other states in the bay watershed seeking to enforce pollution reduction targets in Pennsylvania. Ag Export Webinar

Peanut farmers are using less water than ever

Years of investment and research are allowing American peanut farmers to reduce their environmental footprint. Data presented by the National Peanut Board shows they have cut their water usage over the past two decades by about a third while also increasing yields.

Farmers now use an average of 3.2 gallons of water to produce an ounce of shelled peanuts, according to the board. That’s down from 4.7 gallons in 2010.  Meanwhile, farmers have increased production by 50% from 10 years ago.

“Production research efforts through the National Peanut Board, state associations and the Peanut Research Foundation have led to significant improvements in yields over the past decade,” said NPB President and CEO Bob Parker.

Afghan farmers get aid to deal with hunger crisis

A United Nations effort to boost agricultural productivity in Afghanistan just got a $65 million boost from the Asian Development Bank. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says the money will help Afghan farmers produce grains and meat for the country’s 1.5 million food insecure people.

“Providing food insecure communities with seeds, fertilizers and other essential agricultural inputs in time for production will help them produce life-saving food and generate income, and is the most impactful way of reversing acute food insecurity in the country,” said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu.

They said it. "The White House has explained months of working families’ lost income by passing the buck and accusing the meatpacking industry of ‘pandemic profiteering’.” - House Ways and Means Republicans.

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