Some of the largest multinational food companies are calling on lawmakers to maintain funding for conservation and climate priorities in the next farm bill.
In a letter going to the Senate and House Ag committees today, the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance says farm bill programs can help America’s farmers and ranchers address expanding markets and changing consumer needs while managing conditions such as drought and extreme weather. The alliance includes Danone North America, Mars Inc., Nestle USA and Unilever.
The letter notes that many conservation programs are already oversubscribed and that demand for funding is expected to grow. “In this spirit, we note that the climate crisis facing the food and agriculture supply chain is significant, and the funding must be proportional to the challenge,” the letter says.
Why it matters: Food companies have traditionally stayed out of farm bill debates other than those involving nutrition programs. The companies’ backing will help Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow’s defense of the Inflation Reduction Act funding for conservation programs.  
Vilsack faces Senate Ag amid DOJ question
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is on Capitol Hill today to face questioning from the Senate Ag Committee.
Ahead of the hearing, two Republican members of the committee are raising concerns about Vilsack’s testimony to the committee last May, when he was asked whether the Justice Department had contacted USDA before taking a position in a Supreme Court case involving glyphosate herbicides. Vilsack told the committee his department wasn’t consulted, but DOJ has since told Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., that DOJ did reach out to USDA.
In a letter to Vilsack this week, Marshall and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told the secretary he “should be well aware that the longstanding practice of the DOJ is to solicit the views of other cabinet departments before taking a public position on a matter before the Supreme Court. … Your allegation that DOJ ignored the Agriculture Department before filing its brief in the Monsanto case stunned many in the agricultural community and led them to believe that USDA had been shunted aside.”
In a statement to Agri-Pulse, a spokesman for Vilsack said the department would “review the letter and respond accordingly. Secretary Vilsack looks forward to discussing USDA’s efforts to strengthen the agricultural economy, expand market opportunities, and support farmers and rural communities across the country” during today’s hearing.
Why it matters: DOJ took the position before the Supreme Court that the nation’s pesticide law doesn’t preempt state-law claims such as those that have resulted in multimillion-dollar judgments against Monsanto for Roundup exposure.

Read our report on Wednesday's House Ag Committee listening session here. 
US racking up big soy sales to China
Chinese buyers have committed to purchasing nearly 1.3 million metric tons of U.S. soybeans in the past several days, according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
FAS announced export sales of 667,000 tons to China on Wednesday, following up on a similar announcement of 612,000 tons last Thursday. Both sales are for delivery in the 2022-23 marketing year, which runs from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31.
The latest daily sale announcements come on the heels of a weak showing for U.S. soybeans in last week’s FAS trade report.
Ag sector split over rail merger
Groups representing wheat producers are unhappy with the Surface Transportation Board for approving the $31 billion merger of the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads.
National Association of Wheat Growers CEO Chandler Goule says the merger will “impede competition in the rail market and increase rail rates.”

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But the National Grain and Feed Association, which represents grain processors and elevators, says in a statement to Agri-Pulse that the STB imposed "several meaningful conditions” on the merger, including an arbitration option and seven-year oversight period. Those conditions “are designed to maintain competitive opportunities for rail shippers,” NGFA says.
DHS needs to scale back fee proposal, senators say
A bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is asking the Department of Homeland Security to rethink its plan to sharply increase fees employers must pay to bring workers in from outside the country.
A proposed rule from DHS would more than double the current $460 petition fee when applying for an H-2A or H-2B visa for a prospective guest worker, and impose a new $600 fee for screening and asylum work.
Lawmakers seek biostimulant reg reform
Bipartisan bills have now been introduced in both the Senate and the House to set up a uniform process for regulating plant biostimulants as alternatives to synthetic fertilizers.
Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Mike Braun, R-Ind., have introduced the Plant Biostimulant 
Act, a companion bill to a measure introduced earlier by Reps. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., and Jim Baird, R-Ind.
“As our practices evolve to make our agriculture sector more sustainable, we must ensure they are properly implemented to ensure their efficacy and safety,” says Padilla. Braun says the bill would provide a “clear pathway for these innovative products to be on the market for farmers in Indiana and across the nation.”

Why it matters: Plant biostimulant technologies could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve water quality.

She said it. “Our approach to work requirements creates red tape for participants, not good jobs.” – Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas, the state network of food banks, at a House Ag Committee listening session on Wednesday. Instead of job training, Texas SNAP recipients spend hours documenting their search for work or accept dead-end jobs, Cole told lawmakers.
House Republicans introduced a bill this week to expand SNAP work requirements to more people. 

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