President Biden is putting new emphasis on addressing inflation as his poll numbers continue to slump. But relief should be on the way by the end of the year when it comes to food prices, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Vilsack says the strategy he announced Thursday for “transforming” the U.S. food system should start to bring prices down by increasing competition in the processing sector.

“To the extent that you increase competition, increase capacity, increase supply, you are going to over time, I think, impact and affect prices,” Vilsack told reporters Wednesday after a speech at Georgetown University. “Will this be done in the next month or two? No. Can it be done as we get into the tail end of 2022 and 23? I think so.”

But, but, but: Vilsack made clear he wants to avoid the risk of subsidizing excess processing capacity, hurting existing businesses. Vilsack said the department will consider the economic viability of the 250 meat and poultry processing projects that are already seeking funding from USDA. “That will be part of the judgment that we make in making decisions about where those resources go,” he said.

What’s new in Vilsack’s plan

Much of what’s in the plan Vilsack laid out Wednesday had already been announced, including the funding of meat processing expansion, but several major aspects were new.

The new initiatives include $600 million for food supply chain improvements outside of meat and poultry processing; $400 million for regional business centers; $300 million for organic agriculture transition, and $155 million to expand an initiative to provide more retail grocery options in inner city and rural areas considered food deserts.

Republicans call plan ‘misguided,’ ‘wishful thinking’

The top Republicans on the House and Senate Ag committees laid into Vilsack’s plan in separate statements Wednesday afternoon.

"Increasing spending on organic initiatives and rooftop gardens while placing misguided blame on corporations and agribusinesses will not increase domestic food production,” said Pennsylvania Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson.

His counterpart on the Senate Ag Committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, said the plan represented “misplaced priorities and wishful thinking.” “Much of this ‘framework’ is merely a repackaging of previously announced initiatives that will receive one-time funding provided for COVID relief,” Boozman said.

Keep in mind: Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., championed the funding and policy priorities that make up much of Vilsack’s plans. She says the spending will “lower costs, and build a food system that is fairer for consumers and better for the men and women who power our food economy.”

Wheat growers to DOJ: Talk to USDA

The National Association of Wheat Growers is urging the Biden administration to get USDA input in a Supreme Court case that could affect continued use of Roundup.

Vilsack told the Senate Ag Committee last week he wasn't consulted about the Justice Department’s decision to file a brief in a case involving the herbicide. NAWG earlier signed on to a letter from more than 50 ag groups asking the administration to withdraw the solicitor general’s brief that recommends denial of a petition from Monsanto.

“The dangerous reversal in position defies” federal pesticide law, “decreases access for farmers and other users to much-needed tools to produce food, fiber, and fuel safely and sustainably, and presents threats to science-based regulation and international trade,” NAWG says.

Ukraine and Poland work to streamline grain trade

Ukrainian and Polish government representatives met with railroad executives and other industry officials recently in the Polish port city of Gdańsk to work out logistical and bureaucratic hurdles that have snarled Ukrainian grain exports, according to the Ukrainian Agriculture Ministry.

Poland agreed to install more customs and grain inspection personnel at the busiest border crossings and extend operating hours at the sites, according to the Ukrainian Agriculture Ministry. The agency says the efforts should open new routes to three Polish ports, including Gdańsk.

GAO says better collaboration needed on global food security efforts

The federal agencies responsible for implementing the U.S.’s global food security strategy could do a better job of coordinating their efforts in countries around the world, according to the Government Accountability Office.

USDA, USAID, the State Department and the Treasury Department are all involved in carrying out the strategy.

The report says agencies don’t necessarily even make their spending information easily available to other agencies, which can lead to duplicated or overlapping efforts.

WOTUS roundtable focuses on Southwest

Another virtual roundtable examining regulation of “waters of the U.S.” is on tap for today, this one focused on issues important to the Southwest. The event’s organized by the Arizona Farm Bureau and includes the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, Colorado Ag Water Alliance and the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project.

The roundtable is the third of 10 organized by different groups. The next one, set for Monday, is organized by the Kansas Livestock Association.

Why they matter: EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers say they’ll use input from the roundtables in writing a new, “durable” WOTUS definition, which determines the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

He said it: “It may be weak, butt it’s a beginning and we have to work with it.” – Former Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, who offered unenthusiastic support for the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework during a webinar hosted by Farmers for Free Trade.

The framework won’t lower tariffs – something the U.S. ag sector craves – but it could reassert U.S. leadership in Asia, and that’s something the administration should be commended for, he said.

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