President Biden used his State of the Union message Tuesday night to try to convince the public that the economy is better than they may think. And he warned House Republicans against holding the “economy hostage” by negotiating over an increase to the debt ceiling.

But in an unusual turn of events, Biden departed from his prepared text when his claim that Republicans want to sunset Social Security and Medicare was met with GOP derision. Acknowledging the jeers, Biden said it appeared Republicans didn’t want to cut those programs after all. “We’ve got unanimity,” he declared.

Take note: Biden touted a number of legislative achievements, including the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, which he noted would fund “historic conservation efforts.” That was a reference to the IRA’s expansion of farm bill conservation programs.    

By the way: The speech included a passing reference to immigration issues: He said Congress should provide “a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers.”

USDA: Domestic demand for ethanol could fall due to efficiency, EVs

Domestic demand for ethanol may decrease as vehicles become more fuel-efficient and more people purchase hybrid or electric cars, according to a new Economic Research Service report.

The USDA agency says U.S. ethanol-based demand for corn has leveled out at about 5 billion bushels per year over the past decade, which is equivalent to about 40% of the U.S. corn crop. Demand for transportation fuels did drop during the COVID-19 pandemic, and though it has since rebounded, ERS says it could decrease in the future.

Take note: It’s possible that fuel ethanol use could triple outside of the U.S. between 2021 and 2030, if multiple countries follow through with proposed ethanol policies and targets, the study says.

US sees record value for ag exports in 2022

The U.S. exported a record of about $196 billion worth of agricultural commodities in the 2022 calendar year, an 11% increase from 2021, according to new USDA data.

“When 2021 values came out, we were all super excited and wondered if we could ever top that, but in 2022 U.S. ag exports blew previous records out of the water,” said Veronica Nigh, senior economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

While the value of ag exports rose in 2022, the volume did not. That dropped by about 6% from 2021, said Nigh.

“In soybeans, we saw that 26% increase in value, but by volume, experts only increased by 8%,” she said. “Now for some products like rice, we saw a 27% decline in export volumes; corn had an export volume reduction of 16%, and wheat, because of those high prices around the world, a decline in volume of 13%.”

Take note: The value and volume of dairy exports both set record highs in calendar year 2022, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council. The U.S. exported $9.6 billion worth of dairy, a 25% increase from 2021 and the first year ever when exports rose above the $9 billion mark. The U.S. shipped 2.4 million metric tons to foreign buyers, a 5% increase over 2021.

“We’ve had three consecutive years of record U.S. dairy exports while facing some of the strongest dairy export headwinds that we’ve ever seen,” said USDEC President and CEO Krysta Harden.

GOP hard-liners demand tougher SNAP work rules

Five House Republicans are calling for tougher work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That could be important for the farm bill because just five Republicans could stop it from passing the House if it doesn’t have Democratic support.

In a letter to President Biden, the five lawmakers argue that “structural reforms” to SNAP “will better position funding for people in need while incentivizing able-bodied people to return to the workforce. These incentives will prevent the condemnation of SNAP beneficiaries to a life of dependency; instead, incentives will restore their dignity.”

The five Republicans are Matt Gaetz of Florida, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Ralph Norman of South Carolina.

Keep in mind: Farm bill provisions that cut people off the SNAP rolls are a non-starter in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

WOTUS hearing will feature complaints about Biden rule

Most of the panel of witnesses at a congressional hearing today are expected to criticize the Biden administration’s “waters of the U.S.” rule, which is scheduled to take effect March 20.

The Republican majority of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Water Resources Subcommittee invited Garrett Hawkins, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau; Alicia Huey, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders; Mark Williams, environmental manager at Luck Companies, on behalf of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, and Susan Parker Bodine, attorney with Earth & Water Law and a former EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance during the Trump administration.

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Democrats were allocated one witness and chose Dave Owen, a law professor at University of California College of Law in San Francisco. The 10 a.m. hearing is titled, “Stakeholder Perspectives on the Impacts of the Biden Administration’s Water of the United States (WOTUS) Rule.”

User group calls for reforms to US sugar program

The Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy, a coalition of companies that use sugar in their products, is urging Senate Agriculture Committee leaders to “advance targeted reforms” to the national sugar program in the upcoming farm bill.

In a letter to Senate Committee on Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member John Boozman, AFSP said current U.S. sugar program policies have contributed to heightened food costs. The group said prices have limited the industry’s options to address other issues like supply shortages.

Take note: The group specifically asks the senators to update supply targets and trade rules to “reflect the needs of today’s economy."

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