The Congressional Budget Office plans to issue new estimates of farm bill spending before lawmakers move a new bill later this year, according to a Senate source. That’s important because the updated forecast is almost certain to build in higher estimates of major commodity prices.

Raising those price estimates would have the effect of lowering the potential cost of increasing commodity program reference prices.

USDA’s latest projections show soybean prices averaging somewhat higher than CBO is currently estimating over the next 10 years. For example, CBO currently expects the average price of soybeans in 2024 will be $10.50 a bushel. That’s well below USDA’s estimate of $11.40.

Take note: This source also expects CBO to go along with redistributing Inflation Reduction Act funding in such a way that would raise the funding baseline for future farm bills. If Congress doesn’t do that reallocation, the infusion of IRA funding won’t have any effect on farm bill spending levels after 2031.

On the Hill this week: The House Ag Committee has a hearing Tuesday on agricultural production costs and regulatory concerns. The Senate Ag Committee has a hearing Wednesday on farm bill conservation and forestry programs.

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

US, EU ag leaders stress solidarity despite differences

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski admit that their respective ways of supporting farmers and making agriculture more sustainable and greener are widely different, but both are also adamant that they share the same goals of improving global food security and the resilience of farmers and their land.

“The vision is the same, but of course the strategies are … different,” said Vilsack in one of his public appearances last week with Wojciechowski. “We are going in the same direction.”

The two ag leaders, who are normally separated by the Atlantic Ocean, spoke on stage at USDA’s Outlook Forum and visited a Maryland farm last week.

Wojciechowski stressed that misunderstandings often cause more rifts than actual policy. European farmers complain that U.S. farmers are not held to the higher mandatory standards in Europe and U.S. farmers complain that European farmers are too subsidized. Better communication, he said, would solve many of those rifts.

Take note: Vilsack did voice one major concern. The EU’s efforts to reduce pesticide usage could hurt the U.S. ability to export soybeans and other commodities to European buyers.

The U.S. isn’t the only country concerned. Brazil is also watching fearfully as the EU moves to reduce the maximum pesticide residue levels allowed on the soybeans it imports.
Vilsack said he took up the issue with Wojciechowski in their conversations last week.

Federal appeals court blocks NC “ag gag” law

North Carolina’s “ag gag” law has been enjoined on First Amendment grounds. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, left much of the act to be adjudicated another day, but found that filming activities in an employer’s nonpublic area “as part of newsgathering constitutes protected speech.”

The federal appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, blocked enforcement of the 2015 act that targeted undercover operations such as those conducted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which brought the challenge to the law along with seven other groups. The North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation intervened on the side of the state.

The court called the state’s conclusion that undercover investigations in nonpublic areas are unprotected speech “a dangerous proposition that would wipe the Constitution’s most treasured protections from large tranches of our daily lives.”

Dissenting Judge Allison Jones Rushing, however, said “an interest in newsworthy information does not confer a First Amendment right to enter private property (or a right to exceed the bounds of one’s authority to enter) and secretly record.”

Report calls for increased research funding

new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Farm Journal Foundation is calling on Congress to increase farm bill research funding to protect global food security from the impact of climate change and other shocks.

The report’s recommendations include providing enough funding to the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research to broaden its reach and to allow FFAR to serve as “the foundation for agricultural research” across the federal government.

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From 1995 to 2019, federal and state ag research funding declined from $6.5 billion to $5.2 billion when adjusted for inflation, the report says.

Private sector research is largely directed toward corn and soybeans, the report notes. Other commodities such as “wheat, rice, and specialty crops, have seen significantly less private sector investment.” Environmental issues, animal health, nutrition, and food safety research also have lagged in funding, the report says.

Water rights info could aid Western conservation

The executive director of the Western States Water Council, which represents 18 states, says making water rights information more accessible could make it easier to facilitate voluntary water transfers within the region.

WSWC Executive Director Tony Willardson said during USDA’s Ag Outlook Forum that the council is working on a water rights database to identify the uses associated with current water rights. Colorado River Basin states contain a complex patchwork of water rights, which are often prioritized based on a “first in time, first in use” framework.

“It will help to promote alternative mechanisms such as water banking and leasing and temporary transfers and this will help protect rural economies,” Willardson said of the data project.

She said it. “I am not underserved, I am underdeveloped.” – Cindy Ayers-Elliott, a Black farmer and CEO of Foot Print Farms in Jackson, Mississippi, speaking at USDA’s Ag Outlook Forum.

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