new executive order from President Joe Biden calls on departments and agencies to take steps to increase the use of bio-based products and identify barriers to agricultural biotechnology. 
Among other things, the order gives USDA, FDA and EPA 180 days to identify areas of “ambiguity, gaps or uncertainties” in the federal regulatory system for biotechnology. The order says the complexity of the system can be "confusing and create challenges for businesses to navigate.” Within 280 days, the agencies are required to submit a plan for implementing reforms, including identifying regulations and guidance documents that need to be “updated, streamlined or clarified.”
Separately, the order requires USDA to write a report on ways to “use biotechnology and bio-manufacturing for food and agriculture innovation,” including for improving land conservation, increasing crop yields and protecting against plant and animal pests and diseases.
The order also seeks to increase the government’s use of bio-based products by requiring agencies to train staff on purchasing those goods. 
Railroads set embargoes on certain goods ahead of looming strike
Major railroad companies have enacted or are preparing to place embargoes on certain materials, including anhydrous ammonia, as fears of a worker strike grow despite agreements with 10 of the 12 unions involved in negotiations.
The Association of American Railroads said in a release last week that the six Class I railroads were planning to begin efforts Monday to embargo “hazardous and security-sensitive materials,” including chlorine and chemicals used in fertilizer.
SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the two unions that have not come to an agreement on the contract, called the measures “corporate terrorism” and “scare tactics” meant to force Congress to impose an agreement between the two parties.
Keep in mind: The railroads and the unions must agree by Thursday if they want to ward off a potential strike by engineers and conductors, who make up a large portion of the approximately 115,000 union workers.
ERP second round underway
The bulk of the money has been distributed under the Emergency Relief Program, leaving USDA employees with the job of sorting through some of the more complicated applications yet to come.
Speaking Monday to members of the National Farmers Union, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said pre-filling ERP applications with crop insurance and data for producers who suffered natural disaster losses in 2021 and 2021 “ended up saving about 1 million hours of staff time and 1 million hours of farmer time and allowed us to get those payments out in record time.” So far, he said $7 billion of the program’s $10 billion has been distributed.
Now, the department is faced with the more daunting task of doling out relief to producers who were not covered already. Vilsack specifically referenced growers with shallow loss issues or participants in the Stacked Income Protection Plan – or STAX. FSA Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs Scott Marlow said USDA also plans to address an unforeseen issue with prevented planting in the second round.
By the way: Pressed by an NFU member for an answer on staffing issues at many Farm Service Agency county offices, Vilsack said it may be time for a salary boost.
“It used to be that jobs in the FSA offices were the very best jobs in a rural community. That’s not the case today, and so we’re not competitive with the wages that we’re paying,” he said.
FAPRI forecast projects fertilizer expenses staying up
The Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri is out with an updated farm income forecastThe bottom line for this year is similar to USDA’s updated projections; both estimate net farm income in 2022 at about $148 billion, which is a slight decline from 2021 when adjusted for inflation. 
Compared to USDA, FAPRI economists are estimating higher expenses for fertilizer this year but also stronger revenue. USDA’s estimate for poultry revenue, on the other hand, is higher than FAPRI’s.
Take note: FAPRI estimates farmers will spend nearly $47 billion on fertilizer this year, up from $29.5 billion in 2021. Fertilizer costs are expected to moderate some in 2022, falling to about $40 billion. But they aren’t expected to get back under $30 billion before 2025.
Lawsuit seeks records of dicamba meetings 
The Environmental Protection Agency has unlawfully withheld records of meetings held last year on dicamba, the Center for Food Safety said in a lawsuit filed Monday.
The meetings with Bayer and BASF were referenced in EPA’s report on dicamba in December 2021 that found nearly 3,500 incidents had affected more than 1 million acres of non-target plants, mainly non-dicamba-tolerant soybeans. Grower groups questioned the validity of the data in the EPA report after it was released.

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CFS submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to EPA in June but has not received any responsive records in response. The center originally also sought documents on meetings with state officials in North and South Dakota, Arkansas and Illinois, but narrowed down the request after EPA said it would need until Jan. 20 respond. The amended request seeks only “speeches, talking points, and/or meeting notes” from meetings last September involving EPA and Bayer and BASF.
Brazil farmers begin planting soybeans
This year’s planting of what could be a record-breaking soybean crop in Brazil has begun. Farmers in the southern state of Paraná are “taking advantage of the good levels of soil moisture,” according to the Brazilian consulting firm AgRural, although it stressed that “the work is restricted to small areas.”
Planting has not yet begun in the largest soy state of Mato Grosso, the firm said. Farmers there “are waiting for better weather conditions, since temperatures are very high and humidity is still very low.”
USDA is predicting that Brazil will produce 149 million metric tons of soybeans for its 2022-23 marketing year. That would be up from 126 million tons in 2021-22 and 139.5 million tons in 2020-21.

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