The Senate Agriculture Committee will put a stoplight today on the largest – and fastest-growing – part of the farm bill. The committee holds a hearing this morning on the farm bill nutrition title one day after the Congressional Budget Office sharply raised its cost estimate for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
CBO now projects the program will cost about $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, or 8.4% more than was estimated last year for the same period. A major reason for the higher estimate is that CBO assumes USDA will increase benefits by updating a model, called the Thrifty Food Plan, that’s used to estimate food costs.
In a statement, the Republican side of the Senate Ag Committee says SNAP benefit increases due to TFP updates “will cost more than all the spending outside the (farm bill) nutrition title.”

By the way: CBO also released cost estimates Wednesday for commodity and conservation programs.
CBO estimates the Price Loss Coverage program will cost $31.9 billion over a 10-year period starting in 2024.

The Agriculture Risk Coverage program is projected to cost $16.7 billion. PLC triggers payments when the annual average market price for a commodity is below the PLC reference price. ARC payments are based on a rolling five-year average of county or individual farm revenue

Keep in mind: CBO also raised its estimate of the federal deficit for 2023 to $1.4 trillion, $400 billion more than its earlier forecast. CBO says deficits will generally increase over coming years to $2.7 trillion by 2033. This year’s deficit will amount to 5.3% of GDP.

Torres Small in line for promotion

President Biden is planning to nominate a USDA undersecretary, Xochitl Torres Small, to replace Jewel Bronaugh as the department’s deputy secretary. Bronaugh has said she’s stepping down for family reasons.
Torres Small, who had little trouble getting Senate confirmation for her current role, has been overseeing USDA rural development programs that have received heavy infusions of funding through the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act for rural broadband and clean energy.

Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, says Torres Small has “experience leading a section of USDA that oversees programs that impact rural America in diverse ways, from funding rural housing and community facilities such schools and hospitals to spurring the spread of broadband and improving rural infrastructure.”

Take note: Conner served as deputy ag secretary during the George W. Bush administration.

DOJ urges court to spare ‘right to repair’ case against Deere

The Justice Department is asking a federal judge in Illinois not to dismiss a lawsuit challenging John Deere's repair policies. The farm equipment giant is trying to get the case tossed out.
In a court filing, DOJ says that by arguing that deception or surprise is required for antitrust violations, Deere “proposes safe harbor where the law provides none.” DOJ says the case is similar to one brought against Kodak in 1992 over restricting access to replacement parts.
“These various machines, or ‘tractors' for short, enable American agriculture,” the DOJ writes. "When they break or fail to operate and repair markets function poorly, agriculture suffers. Crops waste. Land lies fallow."
British ag chief wants US-UK free trade agreement
UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Theresa Coffey says she’s been hearing from U.S. farmers the desire for the two countries to resume trade talks that stopped after the last presidential election. She stressed Wednesday that she’s also eager to see that happen.
“I spent the last few days in the great state of North Carolina,” Coffey said in a speech to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. “The UK is their biggest market for sweet potatoes, but it doesn't stop there. They told me they wanted to get on with a free trade agreement, and I hope we can resume it.”
Coffey isn’t the only UK dignitary who has expressed that desire. In a visit last March, British Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan said, “Does the UK stand ready to pull together an FTA? Absolutely. We’ve said that for some time.”
Take note: Coffey also stressed that the UK is getting closer to passing legislation to remove restrictions on gene editing, which she hopes will strengthen British crops against climate change and pest threats.
NASDA wraps up winter policy meeting
NASDA is joining USDA, the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council to enhance preparation for African swine fever across federal and state response plans.
NASDA CEO Ted McKinney says he believes the coordination of the state, federal and industry groups with different strengths will provide a “united force of resilience across all fronts.”
At the group’s winter policy conference Wednesday, NASDA members approved a policy statement to preserve local school districts’ choice in allowing flavored milk as an option in school lunches.
Also approved: An action item encouraging USDA to develop incentives to help producers develop depopulation and disposal plans for animal disease emergencies.
Another action item stated NASDA’s belief that EPA should not use settlement agreements to alter public policy.
He said it - “Some of the most meaningful meetings I have had since taking this position have been sitting down with farmers. … Hearing some of the challenges that they confront is often gut-wrenching, so I think it is really important that we are paying very careful attention to these issues.” - Jonathan Kanter, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, speaking at an Open Markets Institute event on Wednesday.

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