Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack heads to Capitol Hill this week to testify before the Senate Agriculture Committee amid growing concerns about the global food supplies and soaring costs for fertilizer and other ag inputs.
The Biden administration has been struggling with ways to increase U.S. food production in the face of a drought and planting delays that are expected to shrink wheat and corn crops this year.
Ahead of Vilsack's committee appearance Thursday, USDA will release another important weekly Crop Progress report on Monday. Last week's report showed only 49% of the 2022 corn crop had been planted as of May 15, compared to an average pace at that point of 67%. Spring wheat planting also has been significantly delayed in North Dakota and Minnesota, while much of the winter wheat crop is in poor condition due to drought.
In most of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, as well as the northern parts of Missouri, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, farmers will see their crop insurance coverage reduced if the crop isn't planted by this Wednesday.
Vilsack’s testimony also comes as Congress has been racing to shore up the supply of baby formula amid a nationwide shortage, last week passing measures to expand access to families buying formula using the USDA-run Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
A spokeswoman for the committee’s top Republican, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, said Vilsack’s appearance is “long overdue” and that the Senator is “looking forward to asking about a wide range of topics.”
Boozman rejected the Biden administration’s proposals to use a $40 billion Ukraine supplemental spending bill to boost U.S. farm production through incentives for double cropping and an increase in marketing loan rates. Boozman has said he could be open to some planting incentives if it looks like increased U.S. production will be needed.
Lawmakers also are gearing up to write a new farm bill in the next Congress. The Senate Ag Committee held its first farm bill hearing in April.
Boozman, who is in line to become chairman of the committee if Republicans take control of the Senate, faces a primary election on Tuesday. He’s being challenged from the right by Jake Bequette, a former professional football player and Army veteran.
In Georgia, Republicans will decide who will face Ag Committee member Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who is running for a full term after winning a special election in 2020. Former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump and a big lead in the polls over a field that includes state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
In another southern primary, several candidates have lined up to replace retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. It’s a crowded race, but front-runners include Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., and Shelby’s chief of staff Katie Britt.
Back in Washington, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf will face questions from House lawmakers for the second week in a row.
Congress last week passed a measure to expand brand availability of formula under WIC by a wide bipartisan vote in the House and unanimously in the Senate.
But a separate measure to fund $28 million to the FDA to increase formula supplies passed the House by a slim majority and has not been taken up yet in the Senate. Republicans were critical of giving the FDA more funding, placing the blame for the shortage on mismanagement by the agency.
A second hearing on the shortage will be held by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday.
Elsewhere in the Senate, the Energy Water and Power Subcommittee will hold a hearing to consider numerous pieces of water legislation. Among them are a measure to provide additional drought preparedness and additional proposals to boost projects in the west.
As well, USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small will appear before the Senate Banking Committee to testify on USDA’s Rural Housing Service.
Also this week, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers on Monday will hold an online, Midwest-focused roundtable on the Biden administration’s plan to redefine the “waters of the United States,” which determines the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
The event, one of 10 roundtables the agencies are conducting through June 24, was organized by the Regenerative Agriculture Foundation. During an earlier Midwest-focused roundtable on May 9, criticism was focused on farming practices that contribute to nutrient pollution.
None of the speakers at that event represented farm groups, who have expressed frustration with the way the roundtables have been organized.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, May 23
3 p.m. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers virtual Midwest-focused roundtable on the “waters of the U.S.” rule.
4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, May 24
10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Forest Service budget. 366 Dirksen.
10 a.m. — House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis hearing, “Climate Smart from Farm to Fork: Building an Affordable and Resilient Food Supply Chain.”
Wednesday, May 25
9 a.m. — USDA releases the monthly Food Price Outlook.
10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the nomination of Joseph Goffman to be assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, 406 Dirksen.
10 a.m. — House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee hearing on baby formula supply with FDA Commissioner Robert Califf. 2123 Rayburn.
10 a.m. — Brookings Institute webinar on improving the Consumer Price Index to better gauge inflation.
1 p.m. — House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, "Supporting Careers in Conservation: Workforce Training, Education and Job Opportunities."
2 p.m. — House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the infant formula crisis.
2 p.m. — Congressional Budget Office releases The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2022 to 2032.
2:30 p.m. — Senate State-Foreign Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the budget for the U.S. Agency for International Development. 124 Dirksen.
2:30 p.m. — Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on USDA’s Rural Housing Service with Undersecretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small. 538 Dirksen.
3 p.m. — Senate Finance Committee hearing, “Supply Chain Resiliency: Alleviating Backlogs and Strengthening Long-Term Security.”
3 p.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing to consider numerous pieces of legislation.
3:30 p.m. — House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Member Day hearing.
Thursday, May 26
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. — Senate Agriculture Committee hearing with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 216 Hart.
Friday, May 27
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