Three people have pleaded guilty to their roles in a $250 million fraud case in Minnesota involving child nutrition assistance. The trio admitted conspiring to misappropriate USDA funding intended as reimbursement for feeding low-income kids.

Each of the defendants pleaded guilty one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They will be sentenced later.

Some 47 people in all have been charged in connection with the program called Feeding Our Future.

AFBF tries to bring fractured industry together

The American Farm Bureau Federation is jumping into an ongoing battle over dairy policy. This weekend, AFBF is hosting a meeting in Kansas City that will bring together producers and processors to talk about possible reforms to federal milk marketing orders.

The industry is a long way from a consensus, and it’s not clear that anything concrete will come out of the meeting, especially since it’s a public event. But Farm Bureau officials say the discussions will inform AFBF’s policy debate at the group's annual meeting in January.

The National Milk Producers Federation will have representatives at the meeting, but NMPF hasn’t reached consensus among its own membership.

Take note: While the dairy issue is still up in the air, AFBF is out with its other priorities for the next farm bill. The list is notable in part because the group is lending its support to efforts by commodity programs to increase commodity program reference prices.

AFBF also is going after the Conservation Reserve Program, laying out some specific proposals aimed at reducing the amount of prime farmland that’s taken out of production. Among other things, AFBF wants to lower the program’s acreage limit – now 27 million acres – and is calling for capping the amount of land an individual farm can enroll in CRP at 25%.

Andrew Walmsley, a senior director of government affairs for AFBF, notes that the Biden administration took steps to offset a provision in the 2018 farm bill meant to lower CRP payments rates. CRP "definitely needs to stay targeted on those lands that are considered marginal,” he told reporters.

USDA seeks input on minority farmer aid

USDA is asking for comment on how it should design a new, $2.2 billion assistance program for farmers who have been the victims of discrimination by the department. The program was authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act, which repealed an earlier loan forgiveness program that courts said was unconstitutional.

Congress is giving USDA a lot of latitude in deciding who qualifies for the new program, although the discrimination must have occurred prior to January 2021 and have involved USDA lending programs. Payments under the program will be capped at $500,000 per producer. 

A 30-day comment period begins today and ends Nov. 14.

Florida lawmaker: Damage assessment will take a while

House Agriculture Committee member Kat Cammack, R-Fla., says Hurricane Ian left massive damage to her state’s ag sector that could take months to fully assess. And she says that assessment needs to be done before Congress passes a disaster aid package.

In some cases, citrus groves “have been completely flooded out, to where we’re having to bring in fill dirt” to rebuild tracts of land, she said in an interview for this week’s Agri-Pulse Newsmakers. “It’s going to be a total infrastructure overhaul in some areas.”

Newsmakers will be available today at

USDA: Proposed Calif. rail facility could boost Midwest ag exports

The $1.5 billion rail facility BNSF is planning to build in southern California to reduce congestion at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports will also likely make it easier for Midwest grain and feed exporters to get their goods onto ships, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service says in its weekly grain transportation report.

The 4,500-acre Barstow International Gateway will house a rail yard, intermodal facility and warehouses, according to BNSF.

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“By allowing for more efficient transfer of cargo directly between ships and rail, the Barstow International Gateway will maximize rail and distribution efficiency regionally and across the U.S. supply chain and reduce truck traffic and freeway congestion in the Los Angeles Basin and the Inland Empire,” said BNSF President and CEO Katie Farmer.

Rail workforce update: Another union approves deal

The National Conference of Firemen & Oilers has approved a tentative contract agreement with rail carriers, becoming the sixth of 12 rail worker unions to do so. 

NCFO President Dean Devita said “the agreement includes the highest wage increase in 48 years, five annual service recognition payments, an additional paid day off, and enhanced autism healthcare benefits, something we have been fighting for over 25 years."

Of the remaining unions, one has voted to reject the contract and five have yet to vote.

Trick and treat for drug smugglers?

It’s the season for pumpkin-themed everything – from cereal to muffins. But border officials in Texas discovered a new twist when they cracked open four pumpkins in a Ford SUV and found about $400,000 worth of methamphetamine.

Inside the pumpkins were 136 condoms stuffed with 44 pounds of liquid methamphetamine. U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized the drugs and turned over the two people in the car to the local sheriff’s office.

“Our frontline CBP officers have seen just about everything,” said Elizabeth Garduno, acting director of the Eagle Pass Port of Entry. “They utilized their training, experience, interviewing skills and uncovered a rather novel narcotics smuggling method in the process.”

He said it. “Our biggest nutritional challenge in the United States is probably obesity. It's not undernourishment, it's overconsumption and what that leads to, including diabetes, etc. When you get to the underdeveloped world, it’s starvation that we're worried about. It's the lack of resources. It's the lack of appropriate food. It’s undernourishment.” - Mike McFarland, chief medical officer at Zoetis, saying on a Farm Journal Foundation webinar yesterday for the World Food Prize that context is important in considering the role of animal protein in addressing a growing global population.

Shirley Tarawali with the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya said there are 500 million “integrated small farms” worldwide, and that about 70% of the milk, meat and eggs in Africa and Asia come from those operations, as well as half of the staple cereals.

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