The Biden administration is getting pressure from Capitol Hill to expand crop insurance offerings to help farmers deal with rising input costs.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and the committee’s top Republican, John Boozman, are calling on USDA to consider authorizing new margin insurance products and promote existing policies more aggressively.

“Many farmers are underway in their planning for fall fertilizer applications. Prioritizing the thoughtful and timely expansion of margin protection plans of insurance for additional commodities, as well as related insurance products designed for specialty crops, would allow producers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with these tools and better manage production cost risks by next fall,” the senators say in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Risk Management Agency Administrator Marcia Bunger.

The letter says USDA should “consider accelerating” the expansion of margin protection tools and “immediately prioritize” training for producers and agents on existing margin policies.

Keep in mind: Margin policies are subsidized at a lower rate than revenue protection policies and are more expensive for farmers.

However, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, Glenn Thompson, also has been talking up the idea of expanding the availability of margin protection products.

Crop insurance industry consultant Alex Offerdahl told a House Ag subcommittee this summer that he thinks there are “tremendous opportunities” to expand the use of margin insurance.

A Margin Protection policy has been available for some crops since 2016, but only about 6,000 are sold annually, according to Offerdahl, who’s with the consulting firm Watts and Associates.

UFW, UFCW to distribute USDA payments

Arms of the United Farm Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers have been picked by USDA to distribute $600-per-person pandemic relief checks to people working on farms and in packing plants and supermarkets.

The UFW and UFCW foundations are among 15 groups selected to distribute the money. The UFCW Charity Foundation is getting $123.7 million, including $10 million of the $20 million earmarked for grocery workers.  The UFW Foundation will distribute $97.8 million to farm and meatpacking workers.

The National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association and United Migrant Opportunity Services will each distribute about $57 million.

Senators push disaster aid reforms

A bipartisan duo of senators is proposing some detailed changes to the way USDA allocates disaster assistance.

The Livestock Disaster Assistance Improvement Act, proposed by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., is designed in part to have payments delivered more quickly to farmers and ranchers.

For example, the Livestock Forage Program would be modified to allow a one-month payment for a county that’s in a D2, or severe, drought for four consecutive weeks, down from the eight consecutive weeks now required. A second payment would be triggered after eight consecutive weeks.

Another change would clarify that state and federal grazing permit holders are eligible for the Emergency Conservation Program and Emergency Forest Restoration programs. Also, the Bureau of Land Management would be allowed to accept archeological and endangered species reviews done by Natural Resources Conservation Service field staff.

Take note: These proposals are designed with the next farm bill in mind.

For more on the farm bill and a push to increase funding for foreign market promotion, check out the weekly Agri-Pulse newsletter. We also analyze this week’s Supreme Court arguments about the definition of “waters of the U.S.” and we have an exclusive interview with FDA’s Frank Yiannas. 

GAO details USDA earmarking

Members of Congress designated for their districts nearly half the funding in USDA’s fiscal 2022 budget for Agricultural Research Service facilities. That’s according to a report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

An even larger share of the rural communities program account, about 77%, was earmarked by lawmakers.

Some 25% of the water and flood prevention projects funded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service was designated for lawmakers’ districts, GAO says.

Bottom line: Lawmakers directed a total of $405.2 million in funding to 287 projects across the department.

NCGA to fertilizer giant: Cut prices

Fertilizer prices in the U.S. need to go down more. That’s the message the National Corn Growers Association has delivered to Mosaic, the largest phosphate producer in the U.S.

“We’ve caught their eye. It’s just a matter of continuing to put pressure on them,” NCGA President Tom Haag told reporters Tuesday. “Prices have come down a little bit. We had a 300% increase and now we’re down to a 200% increase. It’s still too high.”

The point may become moot soon enough, if corn prices start dropping and fertilizer suppliers like Mosaic are forced to lower prices, the Minnesota farmer said.

Carbon capture small factor in cover crop decisions

Only 5% of cover crop users say they planted them with carbon sequestration in mind, according to the latest monthly Purdue/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer.

"The reasons for planting cover crops vary, with 37% citing ‘improve soil health’ and 33% citing ‘improve erosion control’ as the primary motivators,” according to the survey.

A majority of the farmers surveyed, some 57%, plant cover crops on at least part of their farmland. About 25% have never planted a cover crop.

Four of 10 cover-cropping producers have been using the practice for five years or less.

He said it. “A successful trade agenda will require close cooperation with Congress every step of the way; this coordination is not optional.” - Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., in an editorial for The Hill where he warned that Republicans will keep pressuring the Biden administration to pursue new trade agreements. Smith is the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Trade.

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