House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has put a bill to avoid a rail strike on the agenda after President Joe Biden called on Congress Monday to pass legislation adopting a deal brokered by the White House.
Eight of the 12 rail unions have ratified the deal, but the four that haven’t cited a lack of adequate sick leave. Biden said despite his concerns over that issue, “at this critical moment for our economy, in the holiday season, we cannot let our strongly held conviction for better outcomes for workers deny workers the benefits of the bargain they reached, and hurl this nation into a devastating rail freight shutdown.”
He said in a statement that he had been advised by Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and other cabinet secretaries “that there is no path to resolve the dispute at the bargaining table and have recommended that we seek congressional action.”
Pressure builds for congressional action

Biden’s call to action came the same day more than 400 business groups sent a letter to House and Senate leaders calling for them to step in if necessary to prevent the rail workers from striking.
The coalition of groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Grain and Feed Association and other agricultural interests, said a strike would disrupt the transportation of 6,300 food and farm products per day and halt deliveries of chemicals like chlorine used for wastewater treatment. 
A voluntary agreement with the four “holdout” unions is the “best outcome," they said, but urged Congress to act in the absence of that
"Many businesses will see the impacts of a national rail strike well before December 9 — through service disruptions and other impacts potentially as early as December 5,” the groups wrote.
Hours of Service waiver request shot down by Transportation Department
Livestock groups have lost their long-running bid for an exemption from federal requirements that limit the hours drivers can haul animals.
The groups, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and others representing beekeepers and aquaculture operations, had sought further exemptions from the Transportation Department’s time limits for livestock haulers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration already exempts livestock haulers from Hours of Service requirements when they drive within a 150-mile air radius from the source.
The groups said some longer trips cannot be completed within 11 or 14 hours as required by the current rules. But the agency said the groups’ proposed “fatigue risk management system” would “not replace the safety benefits of compliance with the [Hours of Service] regulations.”
NCBA’s Kent Bacus said the group would look to Congress for relief from the HOS limits, as it has in the past. “NCBA will continue urging congressional leaders to support expanded hours-of-service flexibility for livestock haulers so they can continue making their critical deliveries,” he said.
Objecting to the request, made about three years ago, were the Iowa Motor Truck Association, the National Transportation Safety Board, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, Truckload Carriers Association, and the Animal Welfare Institute.
Dozens of groups urge Senate to confirm top ag trade nominees
More than 50 American farm groups are uniting for a last push in 2022 to get the Senate to confirm two key ag trade officials nominated months ago, according to Farmers for Free Trade.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, National Pork Producers Council, American Soybean Association, U.S. Dairy Export Council, and many other major groups are joining this week to write to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging confirmation of Doug McKalip to be the U.S. Trade Representative’s chief ag negotiator and Alexis Taylor to be USDA's next trade undersecretary.
“Despite unanimous support by the committees and widespread and bipartisan support, the Senate has yet to confirm these highly skilled candidates,” they say in their letter. “American agriculture needs experienced leaders representing us in international negotiations. We urge the U.S. Senate to confirm Doug McKalip and Alexis Taylor by the end of this year and appreciate your assistance with this critical matter.”
Dry weather in Brazil’s Midwest evokes some concern for soy
Soybean planting is virtually complete in Brazil’s Midwest region – home to the country’s largest producing state of Mato Grosso – but continued dryness is causing some concern about the crop, according to the consulting firm AgRural.
Recent rains were “erratic,” the firm said, “raising concern in areas that have been dry for longer, especially as temperatures are rising.” Precipitation has been more even in the south, but farmers are hoping for more in weeks to come.
Overall, about 87% of this year’s soybean crop has been planted, up from about 80% the previous week and down from 90% at the same time a year ago. AgRural’s preliminary forecast for soybean production this year is 150.5 million metric tons.
USDA breaks ground on new soil research facilities at Auburn
USDA’s Agricultural Research Service broke ground in Auburn, Alabama, Monday for its new research facility housing the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory. In 2019, federal funding legislation approved by Congress included more than $43 million for the laboratory.

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The four new buildings – two at Auburn University's Research Park and two more at a site near the university's campus – will house research on conservation cropping systems, environmentally sound animal waste management and climate change. Research efforts will also focus on improved poultry production practices, cotton disease control, improved forage production and the use of biochar in agriculture, ARS said.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., joined several Auburn university officials to speak at the groundbreaking event including Auburn University President Christopher Roberts, Dean of Auburn University’s College of Agriculture and Director of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station Paul Patterson; Bill Dean, executive director of the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation and James Sanford, who serves as the president of the foundation.

FDA extends comment period for ‘healthy’ re-definition
FDA is pushing back by 50 days the deadline for comments on the agency’s proposed new definition for using the word “healthy” on food labels. The new deadline is Feb. 16.
Under the proposal, foods could be labeled “healthy” if they provide a meaningful amount of one of the food groups that Americans are supposed to consume according to the federal dietary guidelines. Those foods include fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy products and nuts.

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