Robert Califf is one step closer to a second tenure as head of the Food and Drug Administration after the Senate voted 49-45 Monday evening to advance his nomination.
Califf served as FDA commissioner during the last year of the Obama administration after being confirmed 89-4. But this time around he faced opposition from some senators, mostly Democrats, because of his ties to pharmaceutical companies. And some Republicans have turned against him over FDA's decision to ease access to abortion pills. 
Take note: FDA regulates 80% of the U.S. food supply, everything other than meat, poultry and some egg products. 
USTR: Talks with China are ‘difficult’
U.S. negotiators continue to meet with their Chinese counterparts to try to get China to fulfill pledges it made under the “phase one” trade pact, but it’s been tough, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai told the U.S. Grains Council at its annual meeting this week.
Tai said that “China’s purchases have not fully met the level committed under the agreement,” but also stressed that “these are difficult discussions.”
Take note: Tai noted that free trade agreements are “one of the most well-known tools” in USTR’s toolbox but did not directly address the possibility of negotiating any new trade pacts. Still, she did stress that she knows the U.S. ag sector is hungry for new markets and promised “bilateral, multilateral and regional engagement” on behalf of farmers.
USDA to align WIC foods with NAS study, guidelines
A top USDA official confirms that the department will be rolling out new rules this year for the WIC nutrition program to align it with the federal dietary guidelines and the recommendations of a study by the National Academies of Sciences. Stacy Dean, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, says the new rules are a “central piece” of the Biden administration’s nutrition agenda this year. 
The NAS recommendations call for USDA to significantly increase the amount of fruits and vegetables that WIC recipients could buy with their benefits. Congress provided a temporary increase in fruit and vegetable allowances as part of a pandemic relief bill last year
According to a survey, the increased allowance tripled the amount of fruit and vegetables that were purchased with WIC benefits. 
Take note: Speaking to the National WIC Association on Monday, Dean expressed concern about the large number of eligible people who do not participate. According to a study USDA released Monday, only 57% of eligible women, infants and children received benefits in 2019. Children are eligible for WIC up to age five.
NASS urges response to classification survey to aid preparation of Ag Census
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has extended the deadline until March 7 for ag producers to respond to the National Agricultural Classification Survey (NACS), which will help NASS build a survey recipient list for the 2022 Census of Agriculture.
The survey was mailed to more than a million households in December, and NASS said response is required under federal law by all who receive it, even if they’re not a farmer or rancher. The original deadline was Jan. 24.
Questionnaires can be completed online at, or by mail or phone. 
Western drought is driest since the year 800, new paper says
The current drought in the Southwest is the driest it’s been in about 1,200 years, researchers said in a study published in Nature Climate Change.
After what the authors called “exceptional drought severity” last year, 2000-2021 was the driest 22-year period since at least 800, according to the paper.
“This drought will very likely persist through 2022, matching the duration of the late-1500s megadrought,” they said in the paper, whose lead author is UCLA geographer Park Williams.
“Existing climate models have shown that the current drought would have been dry even without climate change, but not to the same extent,” UCLA said in a news release, attributing about 42% of the soil moisture deficit since 2000 to human-caused climate change.
The researchers looked at the area from southern Montana to northern Mexico, and from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains.

US closes embassy in Kyiv, FAS ag attaché returns home
USDA’s agricultural attaché, representing the Foreign Agricultural Service in Ukraine, has returned stateside as the U.S. shutters its embassy in Kyiv and moves operations to another city on the western border. USDA counts on frequent reports from the attaché and local staff on Ukraine’s agricultural production, imports and exports of feed grains, dairy, tree nuts, dairy and other farm commodities.
“These prudent precautions in no way undermine our support for or our commitment to Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday. “Our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering. We also continue our sincere efforts to reach a diplomatic solution, and we remain engaged with the Russian government.”
He said it: “In the mid-South, our cover crop is ducks.” Ben Moseley, vice president of government affairs at the USA Rice Federation, while noting that rice production is a bit different from other crops. Moseley was part of a panel discussion at the Crop Insurance Industry Convention.

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