The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee is calling on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to delay signup for the Conservation Reserve Program because of the war in Ukraine.

In a letter to Vilsack, Arkansas’ John Boozman argues that landowners need to be given time to decide whether to keep cultivating the land that could otherwise be locked up in the program. Notably, however, Boozman notably stops short of calling on Vilsack to open CRP to emergency cropping this year, an idea floated last week by a leading ag economist.

Boozman also wants Vilsack to considering farmers some flexibilities on crop insurance this spring. The closing sales date for insurance on most crops in the Midwest and Plains is next Tuesday.

“A delay of the CRP sign-up deadline and an increase in the flexibility for a farmer to purchase crop insurance will allow U.S. farmers to evaluate whether it is better to raise and insure a crop or enroll in CRP,” Boozman writes.

Take note: Vilsack isn’t budging on the issue. A USDA spokesperson said last week that there were no discussions at USDA about opening CRP to cropping. And in response to Boozman’s appeal on Tuesday, he said: “There’s been no change in our position here.”

There have been similar calls to open conservation acres in Europe. For more on the issue, read our weekly Agri-Pulse newsletter. We also look at races facing some Senate and House Ag committee members this year and the problems farmers are running into getting H-2A workers into the country. 
US ag: Canada rail strike could snarl fertilizer supply

 Union members voted overwhelmingly last week to go on strike and shut down the Canadian Pacific Railway if their demands for higher wages were not met. Now, the U.S. ag sector is warning the Biden administration of a potential disaster for farmers who depend on the potash produced in Canadian mines.

Canadian Pacific Railway is the primary transportation method to get Canadian potash from producers like Nutrien and Mosaic to the country’s ports and international customers. Canada is the largest supplier of potash in the world.

“A CP railway strike would severely curtail fertilizer supply and shipments into the United States and would happen at the worst possible time as farmers are planting their 2022 crops,” groups including the National Grain and Feed Association, The Fertilizer Institute, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Feed Industry Association and American Soybean Association wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden.

Negotiations on demands from Teamsters Canada Rail Conference are ongoing, and the ag groups are asking the Biden administration to weigh in soon. A strike could be announced as soon as March 16.

“This could be a real mess,” one Canadian fertilizer industry source tells Agri-Pulse.

EU farm group welcomes Ukraine organization as partner 

 Copa and Cogeca, the largest group for farmers and co-ops in the European Union, will welcome a Ukrainian group for the first time this week – the Ukrainian National Agrarian Forum – as a partner.

“When the Russian aggression started, we realized that we needed to keep these colleagues of ours close to us,” Copa and Cogeca Secretary General Pekka Pesonen tells Agri-Pulse. “Even though we recognize the differences between Ukrainian agriculture and farmers in the European Union, we need to show solidarity.”

Thompson to USDA: Work with us before implementing changes

The top Republican on the House Ag Committee used a hearing Tuesday to call on USDA to work with the committee before implementing new regulations. Glenn “GT” Thompson told USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small he's frustrated by how often lawmakers haven’t been consulted.

Xochitl Torres Small.jpgXochitl Torres Small

Thompson had previously written to Torres Small about his concerns with USDA's implementation of the ReConnect rural broadband program, including why it chose to “advantage” non-profit providers over for-profit ones. He said Tuesday he was "puzzled and somewhat unsatisfied" by her responses. 

The iteration of ReConnect that came into effect last year gave additional points to local governments, non-profits and cooperatives on project applications. 

Torres Small said she hopes the change will bring more rural electric cooperatives and partners to the table.

Soil Carbon Initiative launching ‘go-to-market’ pilot

One hundred farmers will be able to participate in the latest pilot program from the Soil Carbon Initiative, which aims to show the benefits of climate-smart farming by providing market access and SCI labeling from the group’s regenerative agriculture certification program.

“We welcome all producers who are interested in beginning or deepening their soil health journey to join our Go-to-Market pilots,” said Erin Gorman, a Maryland-based farmer and SCI director.

Pilot costs are covered for soil health tests and there is a cost share for expert regenerative consultants. The deadline to apply is April 5, and SCI has scheduled a webinar for March 15.

He said it: “By displacing imported petroleum, increased biofuel use and domestic energy production will enhance U.S. security and independence while supporting America’s farmers and rural economies,” - Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, in a letter asking President Biden to increase production of biofuels in response to the Ukraine crisis.

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