The Biden administration is wasting little time selling the media and the public on that giant new spending and tax bill, the Inflation Reduction Act. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the bill's benefits include $3.1 billion in farm debt relief that will help keep many struggling farmers in business.

Speaking to members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting, Vilsack said that as many as 25% of the farmers with USDA loans are either delinquent or have been delinquent in the recent past, indicating “a level of distress."

“We know right now there's a moratorium on foreclosure actions. But that moratorium gets lifted when and if the public health emergency gets lifted. And that can occur sometime this fall,” he said.

He went on, “It's a tool that we've longed for … to be able to have that flexibility to say with a reduced interest rate or with restructuring of your loan, ‘We put you in a position where you can stay on the farm.’”

By the way: He noted that the debt relief will be based on need, not race. The funding replaces a program for minority farmers that was blocked by the courts.

More Vilsack: Funding to address conservation backlog ‘right away’

The climate bill also will enable USDA to immediately start addressing the huge backlog in demand for conservation programs, Vilsack says. The measure provides about $18 billion for four programs, with the first tranche of funding authorized for fiscal 2023, which starts Oct. 1.

“The expectation is that these resources will be put to use right away,” he said. The money "is going to allow us to begin to whittle down the very significant waiting lists that we have for projects that require conservation resources,” he said.

Republicans: We’ll be watching

Senate GOP Whip John Thune, a South Dakotan who’s on the Senate Ag Committee, says Republicans want to make sure the IRA conservation funding goes toward uses “that make sense, whether those are working lands programs or set-aside programs, and not a bunch of crazy stuff that they might decide to spend it on.”

Under the bill, USDA is directed to prioritize projects that "mitigate or address climate change through the management of agricultural production.”

Thune and other members of the South Dakota delegation held a roundtable Wednesday during the Dakotafest show in Mitchell.

By the way: South Dakota’s other GOP senator, Mike Rounds, says he’s personally talked to Attorney General Merrick Garland about the seriousness of the Justice Department’s investigation into possible price fixing by the four largest beef processors.

“They're going to do it in their own time, but most certainly we will follow up with them and we try to find out whether or not they moved in the direction that we think they should,” Rounds said.

Dicamba risk assessments out today

EPA will release risk assessments on dicamba today as part of its review of the controversial herbicide, which has been implicated in off-target damage to vegetation and is subject to numerous restrictions. The assessments will cover human health and ecological risk, the agency said in a Federal Register notice Wednesday.

“After reviewing comments received during the public comment period, EPA may issue a revised risk assessment, explain any changes to the draft risk assessment, and respond to comments and may request public input on risk mitigation before completing a proposed registration review decision.” EPA said.

Keep in mind: Environmental groups, as well as soybean and cotton growers, have filed lawsuits in federal courts in the District of Columbia and Arizona challenging the 2020 registration for the herbicide, sold as Xtendimax, Tavium and Engenia.

USTR-Taiwan set negotiating mandate

The U.S. Trade Representative and Taiwan have agreed on a negotiating mandate that lays out broad objectives for trade talks that will take place this fall.

The mandate includes a paragraph on agriculture that says the two countries will work on provisions to “facilitate agricultural trade through science- and risk-based decision making and the adoption of sound, transparent regulatory practices.”

Another goal:  Provisions that “support collaborative and cooperative mechanisms on food security and on the use of production practices, including new and innovative technologies, that increase agricultural productivity while decreasing land, water and fuel use and help contribute to climate adaptation and resiliency.”

Top appropriator survives; irrigation lawyer takes Wyo. race

The senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees EPA and the Interior Department has survived to make it to the general election in Alaska.

Lisa Murkowski, who voted to convict President Trump in his 2021 impeachment trial, held a four-point lead over fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka with more than 70% of the vote counted Wednesday from Alaska’s unusual open primary. The top three finishers, who include Democrat Patricia Chesbro, advance to the general election.

Wyoming changes courseGOP Rep. Liz Cheney says she’s thinking about a presidential run after her resounding loss in Tuesday’s primary in Wyoming, where she lost to Harriet Hageman after gaining only 28.9% of the vote to Hageman’s 66.3%.

Hageman, who is a lock for the general election in Republican Wyoming, is a natural resources attorney who represents several irrigation districts around the state, “addressing such matters as protection of irrigated agriculture and the impact of land use changes,” according to a biography.

UN chief to meet Zelenskyy and Erdogan in Ukraine

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Ukraine Wednesday, where he will meet today with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to review the progress of the agreement with Russia that opened up three Odesa ports.

One of the many vessels now carrying grain out of the Odesa ports departed Tuesday with 23,000 metric tons of Ukrainian wheat that will be donated to drought-ravaged countries in East Africa.

He said it. "We're gonna go back to D.C. now that that's signed into law, and get to work on figuring out exactly what that means and try to get that out as expeditiously as possible, because that was the directive of the Congress.” - Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux, talking in South Dakota about the farm debt provision in the Inflation Reduction Act.

Steve Davies, Bill Tomson, Noah Wicks, Hannah Pagel and Spencer Chase contributed to this report. 

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