The U.S. House is formally under GOP control for the first time in four years. But the chamber is stuck in neutral for now after Kevin McCarthy failed on three ballots Tuesday to win the speakership.

Nineteen Republicans voted against the California Republican on the first two ballots, and the opposition grew to 20 in the third count.

House Ag Committee member Don Bacon, a staunch McCarthy ally, says it’s a “bad start” and a “self-inflicted wound” for the GOP.

By the way: Bacon, R-Neb., says it will still be possible to pass big pieces of legislation like the farm bill, but those measures will have to be bipartisan.

“It's going to be bipartisan legislation, and you don't need these 19 votes,” Bacon, R-Neb., said of the farm bill. “If you got to require these 19, you're not going to get it through the Senate anyway.”

But keep in mind: The last two times Congress passed a farm bill, conservatives initially won cuts in a GOP-controlled House that were scrapped in the final legislation.

For more on the challenges facing farm bill writers this year, read our Agri-Pulse weekly newsletter. 

Farmers less optimistic on 2023

Farmers don’t think their operations are going to be as profitable in 2023 as they were last year.

In the latest monthly Purdue-CME Group ag barometer, farmers were asked in early December to compare their expectations for the year ahead to 2022. Their answers produced a farm financial index that is 18 points lower than when farmers were asked about 2022 compared to 2021.

“Rising costs and narrowing margins are key reasons for the lower index in 2023,” the survey says. “Concerns about costs continue to be top of mind for producers’ when asked to look ahead to the upcoming year.”

Some 47% of the crop producers in the December survey said they expect land rental rates to rise in 2023. Some 45% said higher input costs are their top concern. 

EPA wants help with 2023 ag agenda

The Environmental Protection Agency is putting together its 2023 agenda on how to address climate change, and it’s asking for guidance from the farm sector.

EPA’s Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet on Jan. 17 and 18 this month at its headquarters in Washington, and the agency says it wants “independent policy advice, information, and recommendations … on a range of environmental issues and policies that are of importance to agriculture and rural communities.”

Some topics to be addressed may include ways to reduce methane production, improve nutrient management, lessen food waste and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

New egg cooperative formed to stabilize shell egg supply

Eight companies formed a new egg farmer cooperative in the western United States. The goal is to provide stability to retail and food service shell egg customers during the period of high egg demand. ProEgg cooperative will aggregate and sell shell eggs throughout the 13-state region and will be headquartered in Aurora, Colorado.

ProEgg is a producer-owned cooperative organized under the Capper-Volstead Act. The founding egg companies include Cal-Maine Foods, Inc.; Central Valley Eggs, LLC; Colorado Egg, LLC; Hickman’s Egg Ranch, Inc.; Oakdell Egg Farms, Inc.; Opal Foods LLC; Ritewood, Inc.; and Willamette Egg Farms, LLC.

Ric Herrera, the cooperative’s new chief executive officer and a 35-year egg industry veteran, said “combining production under the cooperative umbrella will promote stability within the egg supply chain, create contingencies to avoid supply disruption, develop sustainable logistics and maximize the available egg volume in the region.”

Cal-Maine, the largest egg producer in the U.S. and one of the ProEgg founding companies, said the cooperative allows the company to better serve its customers in the market region.

Cal-Maine CEO Sherman Miller said the cooperative will allow a single point of contact for shell egg purchases to sell the members’ combined egg production. Miller said on or before the end of the fiscal year 2023, the company will confirm whether its participation in the cooperative is in the best interest of its customers.

Iraq makes another big US rice purchase

Iraq purchased 44,000 metric tons of U.S. rice in the closing days of 2022 to bring the country’s purchases up to 88,000 tons so far in the 2022-23 marketing year, according to the USA Rice Federation.

Iraq’s purchasing agency must buy another 112,000 tons to meet the country’s pledge to the U.S. to buy a total of 200,000 tons for the marketing year, but USA Rice officials are upbeat about the situation.

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“Iraq, which typically relies on imports for 90% of its rice consumption needs, has recently increased its consumption levels and hence its imports,” USA Rice said in a statement Tuesday. “Iraq’s rice imports averaged 1.1 – 1.2 million tons a few years ago but have now surged to nearly 2 million tons.” 

Florida farm labor company owner who led racketeering conspiracy gets jail time

Vladimir Moreno, the owner of Los Villatoros Harvesting LLC, has been sentenced to more than 9-and-a-half years in prison for leading a federal racketeering and forced labor conspiracy involving Mexican H-2A workers.

Moreno’s company brought large numbers of temporary, seasonal Mexican workers into the United States on H-2A agricultural visas, according to a Justice Department release. He would make false promises to recruit Mexican farm workers, charge them “inflated sums” to enter the U.S. and coerced over a dozen to provide long hours of physically demanding labor.

Moreno, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and conspiracy to commit forced labor, has also been ordered to pay over $175,000 in restitution to the victims. 

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