It’s been two weeks since the Senate Finance Committee unanimously voted to approve Doug McKalip to be the chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Now, more than a hundred U.S. ag groups and companies are urging Senate leaders to hold a final floor vote soon on the nomination.

The U.S. Dairy Export Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, California Walnut Commission, Bayer, Corn Refiners Association and the American Soybean Association are among the 105 groups and companies that signed on to a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“We write with strong concern over further delay because we are reminded daily of the need for greater attention and emphasis from the Administration on agricultural export market growth,” the groups say in the letter.

USDA now forecasts lower agricultural exports for the next fiscal year and again has increased its import projection by another $5 billion, taking a small trade surplus this year and moving into net deficit territory next year.”

Four borrowers got payments through repealed USDA program

USDA says that four borrowers received loan forgiveness through a program for minority farmers that was blocked by the courts as unconstitutional. The payments to the four borrowers totaled $160,218.20, the department says in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Agri-Pulse. USDA didn’t say where the farmers were located.

The program was ultimately repealed by the Inflation Reduction Act enacted in August and replaced with a debt relief program that is race neutral.

Equity commission mulls recommendations for interim report

Members of USDA’s Equity Commission will continue discussing recommendations from work groups today before voting on an interim report to present to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.

So far, recommendations presented in the first day of the two-day meeting address issues such as funding for minority-serving institutions, assistance for people dealing with heirs property issues, and use of indigenous knowledge in developing science-based climate-smart agriculture definitions.

Dewayne Goldmon, senior adviser for racial equity to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, summarized recommendations made in previous reports going back to 1965 that addressed USDA’s troubled racial history. He also discussed efforts the department is making now to address that history.

He urged the commission to “dialogue with those [at USDA] who are doing things that are working,” as well as those that may “need more guidance” to achieve racial equity.

The meeting begins at 10 a.m.

USDA doling out $502M in ReConnect funds, more on the way

USDA today is announcing a new tranche of rural broadband funding. Some $502 million will be allocated to 32 projects across 20 states.

The announcement brings the total funding in the third round of USDA’s ReConnect program to $858 million. That leaves just shy of $300 million in funding left to be announced. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says USDA plans to “announce the balance of that program very soon and may very well also announce portions of the bipartisan infrastructure law funding.”

Recipients of the ReConnect funding were required to commit to building networks with download and upload speeds of 100 megabits per second to every location in their service areas.

NY Farm Bureau appeals to lawmakers on ‘right-to-repair’ 

The New York Farm Bureau is recommending a couple of options to make it easier for farmers to repair their own equipment. The first option is to ensure that farmers can buy repair and diagnostic information at a fair price, a NYFB representative told a House Rules subcommittee on Wednesday.

The section option: Enable farmers to negotiate agreements with manufacturers for repair information. That would allow producers to avoid going through dealerships to make repairs.

Lauren Williams, NYFB’s associate director of national affairs, said many farmers in her state live long distances from dealers and have the capabilities to repair the equipment themselves or live near an independent repair shop.

She said the organization is not advocating for the right to make illegal modifications to safety features, emissions controls or machine integrity. 

Could Wyoming see new meat plant? 

A $1.1 billion meat processing facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming, could be the newest project in a recent slate of plant announcements, according to the city's mayor.

The plant, Mayor Patrick Collins wrote in his weekly newspaper column, would be “one of the largest meat packing plants in North America.” He said the project was in its early stages, but could provide up to 2,500 jobs when completed.

Keep in mind: Collin didn’t identify the type of meat the plant would process. At least six beef processing projects are in the works across the U.S., but economists question whether the nation’s shrinking beef herd will be able to sustain all of them.

USDA seeking input on ag labor initiative

The Farm Service Agency is holding three listening sessions next week on a pilot program to help farmers hire H-2A workers from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Along with addressing labor shortages through the program, FSA plans to “implement robust labor standards to promote a safe, healthy work environment” for both domestic and H-2A workers.

The program is being funded with $65 million from the American Rescue Plan. FSA wants to hear from employer groups on how comfortable they are with enhanced labor standards, and from unions and farmworker advocacy groups on how to verify that employers are implementing labor protections.

The meetings will be held Sept. 28 and 29.

He said it: "If parents cannot feed their children, nothing else matters" – President Biden at the United Nations General Assembly, where he announced $2.9 billion in U.S. funding for global food security efforts.

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