Mexico’s new decree to ban GM corn is being met in the U.S. with as much disdain as its first version in 2020. Some lawmakers as well as USDA and the National Corn Growers Association are already denouncing the Mexican action.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., calls the new decree “an absurd rebuke of the United States and our shared trade agreements.”
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., told Agri-Pulse the decree “is an unacceptable blow to Kansas’ corn growers and the safe biotechnology we use every day to sustainably feed, fuel, and clothe the world. … It’s time for the Biden administration to pursue legal action through the USMCA.”

McCarthy talks up farm bill
Ag policy is getting some rare up-close attention from a sitting House speaker that could bode well for movement of a farm bill later this year. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., met with reporters and then stayed for the entirety of a House Ag Committee listening session Tuesday at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California.
McCarthy frequently mentioned the importance of specialty crops and trade assistance during the visit. He told reporters a new farm bill would pass this year, but he also suggested Republicans will review SNAP work requirements, a potentially divisive issue.
For more on the listening session as well as the Mexican biotech corn issue, read our Agri-Pulse weekly newsletter. 
Feinstein won’t seek re-election
California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has worked closely with the state’s farm groups on water, labor and other issues, announced Tuesday she won’t run for re-election in 2024.
During his press briefing in Tulare, McCarthy reflected on working across the aisle with Feinstein on the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016. It was one of the first times in more than a quarter century that water legislation passed, he said.
Feinstein, as a rare centrist, has often clashed with other California Democrats on water issues. Don’t count on a Democratic successor taking similar stands.
NRCS chief sees strong demand for new conservation funding
The head of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service expects stiff competition for the $850 million in new conservation funding provided under the Inflation Reduction Act.
Speaking to the National Association of Conservation Districts, NRCS Chief Terry Cosby said there would be rigorous standards for the funding, which is supposed to go toward promoting climate-related farming practices.
“We’re a science-based agency, and when we look at these applications, we’re going to be getting the best of the best. We’re going to be buying environmental benefits,” he said.

NASDA seeks to protect milk choice in schools
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture has adopted a policy through its nutrition committee that says the National School Lunch program should offer students at least one flavored milk option. The action at NASDA’s winter policy conference in Arlington, Virginia, comes in response to USDA’s proposed new school nutrition standards. One option USDA has on the table is to maintain the current standard allowing all schools to offer fat-free and low-fat milk, flavored and unflavored, with a new proposed added sugars limit for flavored milk. Another option proposes to allow flavored milk (fat-free and low-fat) at school lunch and breakfast for high school children only.
During discussion of the policy amendment, a Texas representative said it was important to let local school districts decide what is best for students.
California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross abstained from voting in favor of the NASDA policy, citing concerns about added sugars. She challenged the food processing sector to formulate products to meet potential new USDA lunch guidelines.
USDA looks forward to electronic ID tags
Rosemary Sifford, deputy administrator of veterinary services at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told NASDA’s animal agriculture committee that the use of electronic identification tags in cattle will make it easier track foreign and domestic animal diseases.  
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, the committee’s vice chair, said NASDA plans to submit comments on the proposed rule ahead of the March 20 deadline.
EPA workers call attention to ‘staffing crisis’

EPA employees are holding a rally today at the agency’s headquarters, completing a three-day blitz of Capitol Hill visits agitating for more funding to address what they call a “staffing crisis.”

Members of EPA’s largest union, AFGE Council 238, say that in the past two years, EPA has increased staffing by just 3%, even as its regulatory responsibilities have grown. “The agency is losing senior staff to retirement at a record clip, and 3,000 employees, or 21% of the agency’s workforce, are currently eligible for retirement,” the union said. 

The union wants Congress to provide funding for more high-level positions as well as higher pay competitive with the private sector.

The rally “will highlight how countless skilled STEM workers are choosing private sector work because of the low wages and limited opportunities for career growth at the EPA,” the union said.
Brazil soy harvest speeds up
Brazil’s soybean harvest is picking up the pace thanks to timely rains and overall good growing weather in the country’s largest producing state of Mato Grosso, according to the consulting firm AgRural. Farmers had harvested 17% of the crop nationwide by Thursday of last week, up from 9% a week earlier.
Meanwhile, hot and dry weather continues to plague farmers in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, where the harvest has not yet begun.
Take note: Mato Grosso farmers are also hurrying to plant their second-crop corn – the “safrinha.” AgRural says about 25% of Brazil’s Center-South has finished planting corn for the season.
He said it. “Once we get the border solved, we can move forward.” – House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, telling reporters the Republican-controlled House won’t consider ag labor reform until the U.S.-Mexican border is secured.

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