Key U.S. senators are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to probe the announced merger between supermarket giants Kroger and Albertsons. And the proposed merger also is going to be the subject of a Senate hearing next month.

Democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who is chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Cory Booker of New Jersey sent a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan Tuesday.

The proposed merger “raises considerable antitrust concerns,” they said, especially in light of recent food inflation and hunger issues.

“When Albertsons merged with Safeway in 2015, the FTC found that the merger was likely to harm competition in 130 separate markets and required the company to sell more than 150 stores,” the senators said. “Given the increases in food prices recently, we question whether the divestitures that the agency secured when approving that deal were sufficient, especially since Albertsons was allowed to buy back many of the stores that the FTC required it to sell.”

Klobuchar and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also announced Tuesday that the Judiciary subcommittee will have a hearing next month on the merger.

McCarthy: GOP will be tough on spending, immigration

Republicans could mount a new effort to rein in federal spending, if they get control of the House. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has told Punchbowl News that the GOP would use the debt ceiling as leverage to change “current behavior.”

It remains to be seen what impact that could have on the farm bill. McCarthy is certainly suggesting that controlling the federal deficit will be a priority for the GOP. Farm groups are hoping Congress will provide some additional money for the next farm bill in order to plus-up commodity programs.

McCarthy said Republicans and Democrats “should seriously sit together and (figure out) where can we eliminate some waste? Where can we make the economy grow stronger?”

Take note: McCarthy didn’t offer any room for compromise on immigration reform. “You’ve got to just go fix the border to start out before you can deal with immigration. I just think it’s too far broken,” McCarthy said.

The House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act stalled in the Senate this year due to Republican opposition. The bill would provide a path to legal status for existing farmworkers while also easing restrictions on the H-2A visa program.

The Senate could theoretically still consider the bill in the lame duck session, but there’s been little sign of progress on a deal that would win over enough Republicans.

For a look at how some farm groups want to modify commodity programs, read our weekly Agri-Pulse newsletter. We also report on prospects for double cropping and how Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack wants to use FSA to head off farm debt problems. 

Florida losses estimated at $1.6B

Agricultural losses in Florida from Hurricane Ian could reach nearly $1.6 billion, according to a preliminary assessment of damage by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The institute estimates there were $208 million to $394 million in losses to vegetable and melon crops and another $147 million to $304 million in damage to the state’s citrus industry. Losses to the horticultural sector could total as much as $297 million and the damage to the livestock industry could reach $222 million.

The region hit by the hurricane typically produces more than $8.1 billion in agricultural products a year.

Take note: The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is expected to release its own damage evaluation later this week, the agency said.

USDA raises forecast for Brazil cotton

Strong yields and good growing conditions are expected to boost Brazilian cotton production to 13 million bales for the 2022-23 marketing year, up from 12.1 million for 2021-22, according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Brazil’s cotton exports also are expected to increase, bolstered by a weak domestic currency. The new forecast is for 9.2 million bales in 2022-23, up from 7.7 million bales in the previous year.

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Grassley warns against threatening Mexican fruit and vegetables

The petition by U.S. lawmakers for a Section 301 investigation into fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico is ill advised and presents a threat to U.S. farmers and consumers, says Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 is a potent trade weapon that is used to levy tariffs on trading partners, and the consequences would be severe if it were to be used against Mexico, Grassley told reporters Tuesday. He said Mexico, which is a major importer of U.S. dairy, beef, rice, corn and soybeans, would likely retaliate.

Grassley will be writing a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative in opposition to the investigation.

Poll finds support for funding for climate-friendly farming

A new poll released Tuesday on the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act finds strong support for government’s role in promoting sustainable farming practices.

Conducted by Morning Consult for the Walton Family Foundation, the poll found 76% want the government to “encourage farmers to use climate-friendly practices.” Eighty-three percent agreed that farmers “have a responsibility to reduce harmful pollutants from reaching U.S. rivers, lakes, and oceans,” and the same percentage agreed that “water issues impact the cost of food across the country.”

State-level polls were conducted between July 6 and July 12 among 2,000 registered voters in Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.

He said it. “Congress has the power to pass laws, and Congress has the power to rescind what they passed, and essentially … that’s what Congress has done.” - Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack on a debt forgiveness program for minority farmers that was passed in 2021 but then repealed in the Inflation Reduction Act. The program was replaced with a debt relief plan for which Vilsack announced the first steps on Tuesday.

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