The Senate Agriculture Committee holds a long-awaited hearing this week on a bill to mandate more negotiated trading in the cattle markets, and then the panel launches its preparation for the next farm bill with a field hearing Friday in Michigan, the home state of Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow. 

With Congress returning from its two-week Easter recess this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and a parade of other top administration officials will testify before House appropriators who are starting work on their fiscal 2023 spending bills. The Surface Transportation Board, meanwhile, holds hearings on concerns about railroad delays that continue to plague the food and agriculture sector. 

The Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act that will be the subject of Tuesday's Senate Ag hearing has broad support on the 22-member panel, with nine Democrats and eight Republicans as co-sponsors. A pair of GOP committee members - Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Chuck Grassley of Iowa - are among the four lead sponsors of the measure.

But the committee's top Republican, John Boozman, R-Ark., is skeptical of the bill, and its fate on the Senate floor isn't certain yet.  The bill would need at least ten Republican votes to pass the full Senate, assuming all 50 Democrats support it. 

“I’ve got confidence we’ve got bipartisan votes to get it out and get it through the Senate,” Grassley said. He said Stabenow has assured him Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will put the bill on the floor.

According to economists, the bill would largely affect cattle marketing on the southern Plains, and Texas and Oklahoma aren't represented on the committee. 

If the measure passes the Senate, the bill would head to the House for approval. The House Ag Committee is holding its own hearing on the cattle markets this week, where the CEOs of the “big four” meatpacking companies will testify. 

Friday's farm bill hearing will be held at Michigan State University in East Lansing. The committee is expected to hold a similar hearing later in Arkansas, the home state of the committee’s ranking member, John Boozman.

The hearing comes after several months of House Agriculture Committee farm bill hearings that will continue Wednesday with a hearing on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Congress is due to write a new farm bill in 2023.

Vilsack will testify Thursday before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, and Haaland will face questions the same day from the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. FDA Commissioner Robert Califf appears before the House Agriculture Appropriations panel on Wednesday and the Senate Ag Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan will testify before the House Interior-Environment panel on Friday. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore appears before the same subcommittee on Wednesday. 

The liveliest hearing of all may come Wednesday when Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls his department’s budget. Mayorkas is under fire from Republicans for the administration’s handling of immigrants crossing the southern border.  

The full House, meanwhile, is scheduled to vote this week on the Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act, which would authorize the Agency for International Development to coordinate efforts to prevent and treat malnutrition and require USAID to coordinate with other federal agencies.

USAID launched a global nutrition coordination plan in December that is supposed to guide the agency’s work with USDA and other departments through 2026. 

The Surface Transportation Board will hold the rail shipping hearings Tuesday and Wednesday, with the witnesses including representatives of farm groups, the six Class I railroads and Deputy Agriculture Secretary Jewel Bronaugh. 

Last week, 33 farm and food industry groups that are members of the Agricultural Transportation Working Group appealed to the board to take several steps to address the delays and lower rates

“While several factors contribute to these carriers’ rail service challenges, we consistently hear that significant reductions in train crew numbers and other personnel have severely hamstrung the rail carriers’ ability to maintain their prior levels of service, to overcome the typical day-to-day issues that affect railroad service plans, and to respond to changes in rail freight demand,” the groups said in a letter to the board. 

According to USDA, grain train speeds are down 6% from a year ago, while grain origin dwell times are up 22%. The number of grain cars that haven’t moved in over 48 hours has increased 32% year over year, and the number of unfilled shipper orders for empty cars has increased 101%.

Also this week, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., will headline an Agri-Pulse webinar sponsored by Pivot Bio, “Scaling innovation for climate action: The road map.” Other speakers will include Pivot Bio CEO Karsten Temme; Pipa Elias, deputy director of the environment program at Walton Family Foundation; and Patty Mann of Mann Farms. 

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

Monday, April 25

North American Agricultural Journalists annual meeting, through Tuesday, Arlington, Va.

4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report. 

Tuesday, April 26

9:30 a.m. - Surface Transportation Board hearing on agricultural rail shipping problems. 

10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing to review the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act of 2022 and the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act of 2022.

Wednesday, April 27

9:30 a.m. -  STB continues rail shipping hearing. 

10  a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with FDA Commissioner Robert Califf. 

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on price discrepancies, transparency and alleged unfair practices in cattle markets. 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, 2359 Rayburn.

2 p.m. - Agri-Pulse webinar, “Scaling innovation for climate action: The road map.”

2 p.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. 

2:30 p.m. - House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation, 2362-B Rayburn. 

Thursday, April 28

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

9 a.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. 

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.  

10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Robert Califf, 124 Dirksen.

Noon - Resources for the Future webinar on addressing high energy costs for U.S. consumers. 

Friday, April 29

9 a.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with EPA Administrator Michael Regan. 

10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee farm bill hearing, “Growing Jobs and Economic Opportunity: 2023 Farm Bill Perspectives from Michigan,” Michigan State University STEM Teaching and Learning Facility.  

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