Members of President Joe Biden's cabinet will be testifying across Capitol Hill today. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack will appear before the House Agriculture Committee this morning. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and EPA Administrator Michael Regan will both be testifying before House Appropriations subcommittees.
We’re also watching: The House Oversight Committee will be looking into FDA’s handling of the infant formula crisis. On Monday, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf announced the retirement of Susan Mayne, who has directed the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition since 2015.
By the way: A House Natural Resources subcommittee will have a hearing on barriers to increasing water storage in the West. The witnesses will include officials from California’s Central Valley as well as Oregon and Colorado.
NCBA asks USDA to reverse course on Paraguay beef
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is strongly opposed to a proposal from USDA’s 
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to partially lift the U.S. ban on beef imports from Paraguay.
There would be strict requirements on any Paraguayan beef, including verification that foot-and-mouth disease “has not been diagnosed in the exporting region in the past 12 months, the meat comes from premises where FMD has not been present during the lifetime of any of the animals, and the animals were inspected before and after death, among others,” says APHIS.
But NCBA says the APHIS risk analysis is dated. “Paraguay has a history of outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, and we cannot jeopardize the safety of U.S. consumers and the health of our U.S. cattle herd with outdated information,” NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Kent Bacus said.
Brazil firm lowers soybean forecast
Brazilian farmers have harvested about 70% of the soybeans they planted last year, and yields are strong in the largest growing regions. But drought in the south has prompted the consulting firm AgRural to again lower its overall production forecast.
Brazil, the company says, is now expected to produce 150.9 million metric tons of soybeans this year, a 600,000-ton cut from AgRural’s February forecast.
USDA left its forecast for Brazilian soybean production unchanged at 153 million tons in its March edition of the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates. Both forecasts are a big jump from the 129.5 million tons Brazil harvested last year, according to USDA data.
AGs call for passage of ‘right to repair’ bills
Attorneys general from 28 states are urging federal lawmakers to support “right to repair” legislation, which they believe is key to ensuring fair competition
“Manufacturing of automobiles, digital devices, and agricultural equipment is increasingly becoming more technologically advanced and built with more embedded electronics,” the officials said in a letter to the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
GAO: SAF goals need better federal coordination
A new Government Accountability Office Report says the Transportation, Energy and Agriculture Departments should do a better job of measuring the progress of their work to spur the production of 3 billion gallons of Sustainable Aviation Fuel by 2030.
The three published a roadmap in September to meet the goals of the White House’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, but did not put measures in place to gauge the impact federal actions would have on progress towards the 3-billion-gallon mark.
Take note: The U.S. produced 15.8 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel in 2022, which accounts for less than 0.1% of the total jet fuel used by major U.S. airlines, the report says.
Distressed borrowers to receive $123 million from USDA
USDA is giving another $123 million to distressed borrowers, bringing the amount provided so far under the Inflation Reduction Act to more than $900 million.
In October, USDA announced $800 million in payments to about 11,000 delinquent direct and guaranteed borrowers and another 2,100 borrowers who had their farms liquidated and still had remaining debt, the department said. A USDA fact sheet explains the additional new eligibility categories for the latest round of relief. 

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Lenders urged to consider conservation practices

A new report tries to make the case to farm lenders and managers that cover crops and other soil health practices can protect the long-term profitability of cropland. 

The report, released by the AGree Initiative, acknowledges it may take two to three years for farmers to see positive net returns from the practices, “depending on the particular management situation and whether incentive payments are part of the profitability equation.”

“Just as an ag lender would normally be supportive of other multi-year investments that will boost long-term profitability and risk reduction, so should the use of soil health management practices be a priority to increase long-term profitability,” the report notes.

The report – which cites a landmark recent study of USDA farmer records that found cover crops and conservation tillage could significantly lower crop insurance claims – was authored by Rob Myers, director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at the University of Missouri.

Monarch butterfly counts still low
The annual count of migratory monarchs that spend the winter in Mexico is down 22% from last year, which is 64% below the minimum number scientists say is needed to prevent them from going extinct in North America, according to the survey conducted by Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas and World Wildlife Fund Mexico.
Most monarchs west of the Rockies spend the winter on the central coast of California. Their numbers hit 330,000 during Thanksgiving counts, but deadly storms severely reduced their population, and only 117,000 butterflies survived into January. The Fish and Wildlife Service has a 2024 deadline to make a final decision on whether to list the insects as threatened or endangered.

Questions, comments, tips? Email Steve Davies.