The House Agriculture Committee's ongoing hearings on the farm bill turn today to what USDA can do to address climate change.

The witnesses will include Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and a leader of the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, a coalition of farm and conservation groups. Other witnesses will include former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who co-chairs the Bipartisan Policy Center’s ag climate task force.

In her prepared testimony, Heitkamp says congressional priorities should include expanding incentives and cost-share programs, providing the necessary technical assistance to farmers and “improving data and risk management.”

By the way: Ahead of the hearing, the AGree Economic and Environmental Risk Coalition released a set of recommendations focused on maintaining and expanding climate-friendly practices that farmers are already doing. The report notes that farmers who are “early innovators” often are unable to qualify for carbon payments that are only available for new practices.

Minnesota farmer Kristin Weeks Duncanson, who will testify for AGree, says getting more farmers to adopt such practices will require “more and better data that is up to date, accessible, and can be analyzed to show the costs and benefits of these practices to farming operations.”

For an in-depth look at farm bill issues, read our weekly Agri-Pulse newsletter and sign up for the Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit taking place next Monday at the National Press Club. 

USDA seeks info on input prices, market concentration

USDA is providing new clues on the direction of its investigation of market concentration in the fertilizer and seed industries.

In a Federal Register document posted online but not yet published, the Agricultural Marketing Service is seeking “evidence of collusion, market manipulation, or other anticompetitive practices among competitors, buyers of farm products, commodity traders or related financial firms to fix or alter prices, allocate markets, or restrict from where a farmer buys inputs and sells product?”

A separate FR notice on seeds says AMS is “particularly interested in what effects various forms of [Intellectual Property], such as patents, have on small to mid-sized seed businesses and plant breeding programs.”

A third notice seeks comments on the impacts of food retail and distribution concentration on ag producers “and small, midsized and otherwise independent (SME) processors.”

Once the notices are published in the Register, there will be a 60-day comment period.

New calls for Biden to name trade undersecretary

Some GOP senators are renewing demands that President Biden nominate an undersecretary for trade at USDA. Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Todd Young of Indiana both complained in a Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday about the delay in a successor to Ted McKinney, who filled the position in the previous administration.

But Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack assured reporters last week he is trying very hard to get that position filled. So far there have been two candidates that passed the rigorous ethical and legal vetting, but both turned down the post because they were unwilling to make the necessary financial sacrifices, Vilsack said.

“It’s frustrating,” Vilsack said. He stressed that exports are doing very well despite not having a top political appointee for trade at the department.

Industry study: Big demand for processor contracts

An industry-commissioned study makes the case that chicken producers make good money contracting with processors and other farmers are waiting in line to get deals.

The study released by the National Chicken Council says there were 1,672 applications from potential producers and 335 expansion requests from existing producers when companies were surveyed.

The top 20% of contract farmers earn $142,000 a year on average.

Keep in mind: NCC is releasing the study as the Biden administration is developing rules to crack down on the performance-based contracting practices used by the industry.

“What this data further show, is that the chicken industry should be looked at as a model, and not a target of unwanted and unnecessary regulations that are being discussed in the Biden administration,” said NCC President Mike Brown.

Organic seed use not growing, new report shows

A recent survey by the Organic Seed Alliance shows “no meaningful improvement” in the use by organic producers of organic seeds in the past five years.

“This lack of progress puts at risk the viability of the organic seed industry and the integrity of the organic label,” the alliance said. “In particular, the largest organic operations operations still use relatively little organic seed, and data suggests that organic certifiers’ enforcement of the organic seed requirement could be strengthened.”

The alliance, however, said there has been progress in other areas. More than $39 billion has been invested in organic seed research in the last five years, the largest public investment in organic seed systems on record, OSA says.

Senate passes daylight saving time bill

The Senate yesterday unanimously passed a measure to make daylight saving time permanent, which would eliminate the need to “fall back” to standard time ever again.

The "Sunshine Protection Act" passed by voice vote two days after daylight saving time kicked in for 2022, with both sides of the aisle contending Americans want more sunlight and do not want to change their clocks. 

The measure, which still must pass the House, would take effect in November 2023. Bill sponsor Sen. Marco Rubio said the delay was requested by airlines and broadcasters with schedules already built around the existing calendar.

Keep in mind: Some of our older readers may remember, fondly or not, when DST was mandated during the winter in 1974 to cut energy consumption.

He said it. “Aren’t we in a trade war with China all the time anyway?” - Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, when asked by a reporter about the risks of sanctioning China for assisting Russia.

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