The Congressional Budget Office is expected this week to release its latest estimates for farm bill programs. These estimates, known as a baseline, will generally set the parameters of how much lawmakers can spend when writing the new farm bill, unless they can find funding from other sources.  

Meanwhile: Members of the House Ag Committee head to California for a farm bill listening session Tuesday at World Ag Expo in Tulare.

On Thursday, the Senate Ag Committee continues its farm bill hearings with a review of nutrition programs. The hearing will come one day after the CBO releases its cost estimates, which are expected to include a new forecast for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP alone accounts for about 80% of farm bill spending.

For more on the D.C. agenda this week, read our Washington Week Ahead.

Califf notes changes at FDA will take time

As the Food and Drug Administration moves forward with its proposed organizational changes and focus on the Human Foods Program, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf defended the agency’s recent proposal in a fireside chat with the Alliance for a Stronger FDA during a webinar on Friday afternoon. He warns that FDA has “several bosses” with the executive branch, Congress and unions so he can’t move as quickly as he would if he was at an organization or university.

Califf adds he thinks issues in the food safety division at FDA have “been brewing for many years.” But in looking forward, with the challenges brought about by climate change, supply chain disruptions and international strife, it’s important the agency moves forward in the right direction to ensure “we can feed America and feed the world.”

At the end of January, Califf proposed creating a new Human Foods Program at the agency and has begun a national search for a newly created deputy commissioner for human foods who would report directly to him.

Cotton growers seen pulling back this year

Cotton growers are expected to sharply reduce their planting in 2023 following a steep drop in prices over the past year. According to an annual survey by the National Cotton Council released Sunday, farmers are expected to plant just 11.4 million acres this spring, 17% fewer than a year ago. 
The reduction is especially pronounced in Texas, the top producing state. Acreage there is expected to drop by 22% as farmers shift some acreage to corn, sorghum and wheat.

Take note: The cotton council’s vice president of economics and policy analysis, Jody Campiche, said the price ratios of cotton to corn and soybeans are at their lowest levels since 2009. Harvest-time futures prices for cotton are 16.5% lower than they were a year ago. “History has shown that U.S. farmers respond to relative prices when making planting decisions,” she said. 

Farming and Amazon get attention during Lula’s White House visit

The U.S. and Brazil released a joint statement Friday during the White House visit of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, calling for preservation of the Amazon rainforest and improvement in carbon-cutting farming practices.

Biden and Lula called for a seven-year-old working group between the two countries to reconvene “as early as possible to discuss areas of cooperation, such as fighting deforestation and degradation, enhancing the bioeconomy, bolstering clean energy deployment, strengthening adaptation actions and promoting low carbon agriculture practices.”

CSX reaches deal with unions on sick leave; senators urge other companies to follow suit

Rail company CSX Transportation has reached a deal with labor unions allowing paid sick leave for employees, and two senators are urging other railroads to strike similar agreements.

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The deal allows 4,000 Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way union members and 1,000 Brotherhood of Railway Carmen members four days of paid sick leave. The union members will also have the option to use three days of their personal leave time for sick leave instead.

Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Mike Braun, R-Ind., in a press conference Thursday called for other railroad companies to give workers at least seven paid sick days. 

“If the railroads themselves do not come to the table and negotiate an acceptable agreement to the unions, then we are going to have the executives here in this committee room and we surely will bring legislation to the floor,” Sanders, the chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told reporters.

He sang it: “She's got Brazilian leather boots on the pedal of her German car. There's a Ukrainian flag hanging up behind the bar.” – Country artist Brad Paisley, who performed at the White House Saturday night. Paisley explained that he changed the lyrics of the song for the performance: “I had to change the second line because it mentioned Russia and I don't do that anymore."

Take note: Paisely sang after a dinner attended by 31 governors. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in attendance for the black-tie event.

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