The Biden administration is calling on Congress to make permanent a $5-an-acre payment program for cover crops that USDA offered in 2021 and 2022. The initiative is included in the fiscal 2024 budget that the White House released Thursday.

USDA estimates the program would cost nearly $1 billion over 10 years. The payments “will benefit the environment and improve climate resilience,” according to the FY24 USDA budget summary.

Keep in mind: It remains to be seen how much this idea will appeal to the House and Senate Ag committees, which already are scouring programs for money to augment the farm bill commodity programs.

Senate Ag Democrats originally had a cover crop payment program in President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, but the initiative was ultimately left out of what became the Inflation Reduction Act.

Take note: The House Ag Committee has formally made its case for new farm bill funding. In a letter to the House Budget Committee, the Ag Committee argues that putting more money into commodity programs would reduce the need for ad hoc payments

“There's an adage in health care that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and I think that applies to our work leading up to a farm bill reauthorization,” said committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa.

Interior seeks more funds for Endangered Species Act

Elsewhere in Biden’s budget request, Interior Department funding would increase by about $2 billion – 12% -- to $18.9 billion for fiscal 2024. Money for Endangered Species Act activities such as listing and delisting species would increase from $23.4 million to about $27 million, more than 15%.

Trade enforcement needed to rebuild trust

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says enforcing existing trade agreements is important for building public support for Trade Promotion Authority and, eventually, new trade agreements.

“We have to rebuild trust around the country in trade,” he told delegates attending the Pork Industry Forum in Orlando. “The way you do that is by enforcing the trade agreements you have,” he explained, while pointing to U.S. actions this week to begin consultations with Mexican officials on their biotech corn ban.

“Clearly, what the president of Mexico has done is not based on science itself. It’s not consistent with USMCA, it’s not consistent with what the rest of the world knows about biotechnology,” Vilsack said. “We have a responsibility not to wink and nod, but to basically stand up to that principle.”

McKinney: Mexico against the wall on GM corn

The U.S-Mexico-Canada Agreement was written in a way that will help the issue of Mexico’s ban of GM corn “come to a successful conclusion,” says Ted McKinney, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

In this week’s Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, McKinney says Mexico has “backed themselves in an unfortunate corner. I think it's going to come to a happy conclusion … it has to, otherwise the Mexican ag economy is just going to be decimated with [the] lack of or no food for their animals.”

This week’s show will be live, here.

Vilsack to make climate-smart partnerships agreement announcements                                                                                                                                       
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack plans to speak at Commodity Classic in Orlando Friday morning and will be signing the first two final agreements for the $3 billion climate-smart partnerships program. USDA Undersecretary of Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie told farmers while speaking at the classic on Thursday that USDA authorized funding for 141 projects and recognizes the need to finalize many ahead of the planting season.

Bonnie anticipates moving forward with finalizing a majority of the program’s larger packages during the month of March.

USDA will be focusing on execution and delivery in the next two years, Bonnie says. He says the partnerships are important domestically to provide another revenue stream for producers, but also as a model internationally for voluntary, incentive-based partnerships that create value for agriculture that also maintain productivity.

“We’re going to have to demonstrate through measurement, monitoring and other things that we can actually provide real results here even as we make sure it pencils out for agriculture and forestry,” Bonnie says. He says they’ve also started talking with colleagues internationally through trade and international policy conversations that this approach can be deployed around the world.

AFBF signs ‘right-to-repair’ MOUs with two more major equipment manufacturers

The American Farm Bureau Federation has signed ‘right-to-repair’ Memorandums of Understanding with major farm equipment manufacturers Case IH and New Holland, promising to encourage its state-level affiliates to avoid supporting state legislation in exchange for the companies committing to make tools and software “reasonably available” to farmers and third-party repair shops.

The agreement, which looks similar to one AFBF made with manufacturer John Deere in January, would allow equipment owners to purchase access to tools and equipment manuals, including CNH Industrial’s Electronic Service Tool. The EST is already available to customers, according to Case IH’s website.

Under the agreement, owners or third-party repair shops are not allowed to divulge trade secrets, override safety features or emissions controls or violate any federal state or local laws or regulations. 

USDA Inspector General planning audits of Foreign Agricultural Service, Rural Utilities Service programs

The Agriculture Department’s Inspector General is planning to look more deeply at the Foreign Agricultural Service’s control of the Market Access Program and McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program funding in the 2023 fiscal year, along with a review of the Rural Utility Service’s E-Connectivity Pilot Program.

Inspector General Phyllis Fong told members of the House appropriations agriculture subcommittee Thursday that the agency was also planning reviews of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s cost estimation process and whether participant control of land in the Conservation Stewardship Program “has implications for the control environment established in IRA funding.”

He said it: “As important as defense is, so is what you all do. Because you make us a food secure nation.” -- USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack speaking to the Pork Industry Forum in Orlando. He explained that “as a food secure nation, we are a much stronger, more powerful, protected nation than China, which has lots of missiles but doesn’t have enough food.”

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