Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will headline the annual Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit today in Washington.
This year’s conference will focus on issues critical to ensuring long-term agricultural sustainability and food security.
The summit will feature interviews with the leaders of the House and Senate Ag committees and discussions with a diverse array of experts and producers. They’ll debate a range of issues, including the challenges facing beginning and minority farmers as well as future needs for risk management, agricultural research and nutrition assistance.  
Registration for the summit is still available today online, or in person at the National Press Club.
By the way: The Biden administration’s “waters of the U.S.” rule officially takes effect today, an issue almost certain to occupy time at a Senate hearing this week with EPA Administrator Michael Regan. A Senate vote to eliminate the rule also is nearing. 
Read more about WOTUS in our Washington Week Ahead.
Ukraine grain will continue to flow through Odesa ports
It came down to the wire on Saturday, but a United Nations-brokered deal to keep the Black Sea Grain Initiative alive was extended on the last possible day before the renewal deadline. Russia had been demanding an extension be limited to 60 days, but the UN and Ukraine remained steadfast that the 120-day renewal be left unchanged.
The UN did not specifically say that the Initiative was extended again by 120 days in its Saturday announcement, but Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said in a tweet that was the case.
“I welcome the agreement by all parties to continue the Black Sea Grain Initiative to facilitate the safe navigation of export of grain, foodstuffs and fertilizers from Ukraine,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said. “The initiative demonstrates the importance of discreet diplomacy in finding multilateral solutions.”
Why it’s important: Russia has criticized the deal for primarily helping wealthy nations, but defenders of the initiative say it has been critical to lowering food prices and supplying Ukrainian grain to some of the neediest regions.
Nutrition farm bill fights will return, but heightened
Fights over the farm bill’s nutrition title are expected to be heightened this time around because of disagreements over Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program work requirements, appropriate levels of spending, and how to classify and treat able-bodied workers without dependents,
That’s the assessment of Kathleen Merrigan, former USDA deputy secretary and current executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University.
“Going into this farm bill, it’s all about the money,” Merrigan tellsAgri-Pulse. “Everyone’s wondering how do we scrape together enough money for a farm bill, and then this is coinciding with the debt ceiling debate. So SNAP is going to be eyed by many in terms of its overall costs.”
The discussions about SNAP also come as recipients in many states face the loss of increased benefits provided during the height of the COVID pandemic.
Merrigan says she recognizes there can’t be an “endless emergency, but it doesn’t mean the doctors are going to give us a clean bill of health.” Americans are “still struggling” to put food on the table.
“SNAP is proven to be the best elixir for the economy in times that we need to do stimulus,” Merrigan says, citing USDA analysis which finds every $1 spent in SNAP results in $1.43 to $1.50 worth of impact on the economy as beneficiaries immediately spend.
Senate bill would freeze Adverse Effect Wage Rate
A bipartisan Senate bill introduced by a couple of unlikely allies would freeze the Adverse Effect Wage Rate at last year’s level for the rest of 2023.
Sens. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said farmers in their states who use the H-2A program are getting squeezed financially by increases in the AEWR. In Georgia, the rate went from $11.99 to $13.67 per hour this year, up 14% from 2022. The rate in North Carolina was set at $14.91 an hour, up 5%.

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“I’m leading this bipartisan legislation to prevent damage to Georgia’s agricultural producers,” Ossoff said. Tillis said the wage rate “has long outpaced the rate of inflation and become unsustainable.”
Bipartisan, bicameral bill would expand AgARDA authorization
Ag groups and land-grant universities are backing a bill introduced by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Roger Marshall, R-Kan., to double the authorization of the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AgARDA) from $50 million to $100 million.
The bill, which is expected to be joined by a companion in the House from Reps. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., and Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, also would expand AgARDA’s scope to address animal and plant pathogens and pests.
The agency was authorized by the 2018 farm bill but has not been established yet because of limited funding.
More bills: Another bipartisan, bicameral bill would expand biochar research efforts. In the House, Iowa Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrats Kim Schrier of Washington and Chellie Pingree of Maine have introduced the Biochar Research Network Act. In the Senate, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Jon Tester, D-Mont., John Thune, R-S.D., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, reintroduced companion legislation earlier this month.
Meanwhile, bills dropped by Republican Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia and Democratic Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota would require the FDA to regulate hemp-derived cannabidiol, or CBD, as a dietary supplement and food and beverage additive.
She said it: “Keeping grains flowing from Ukraine and ensuring stability for global commodity prices will be important mitigation measures as food shortages and income losses this year are likely to worsen, particularly in countries that saw major climate disasters last year.” -- Mercy Corps Executive Director for Europe Harpinder Collacott.
Questions, comments, tips? Email Steve Davies at Agri-Pulse.