The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee is setting a key condition for the next farm bill.
In an interview with Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman says the bill must provide some improvement in Price Loss Coverage program reference prices. PLC triggers payments when market prices fall below the reference levels.
“I won't vote for a farm bill that doesn't take care of our reference prices,” Boozman says, adding that he is also concerned about the Agriculture Risk Coverage program and crop insurance.
Take note: Boozman says committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is committed to finding the money that’s necessary.
Newsmakers will be available today at Agri-Pulse.com.
Analysis: H-2A wage rules will hit small farms hardest
The Labor Department’s new formula for setting minimum wages for H-2A workers will hit small farms especially hard, according to an analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation. AFBF says the average national wage rate in 2022 would have been 12% higher for small farms under the new formula and 5% higher for large farms.
The Farm Bureau says th e Labor Department is significantly underestimating the number of positions that fall into a higher wage category under the regulations.
H-2A wage rates for field workers will continue to be based on USDA’s Farm Labor Survey of farmworker wages, but rates for some occupations, including truck drivers and supervisors, will be linked to a broader wage survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Showdown on the CCC
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s three days on Capitol Hill ended with some fireworks Thursday.
The chairman of the House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee, Andy Harris of Maryland, ripped into Vilsack for using the Commodity Credit Corp. to fund the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities, the initiative that’s supposed to test ways to develop markets for climate-related farming practices.
But take note: Harris essentially conceded Vilsack had the authority to fund the initiative by saying Vilsack used a “loophole” in the law. It’s also notable how few Republicans raised the issue this week. Vilsack was prepared for attacks; he came to Thursday’s hearing with handwritten notes on the 1933 law that authorized the CCC.
Harris would likely have a tough time getting any new CCC restrictions past the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Land disclosure crackdown only goes so far
Vilsack has hired more staff to track foreign investment disclosure filings for violations USDA may have missed during a three-year gap in its imposition of disclosure penalties.
The agency did not assess any penalties for Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act violations between 2015 and 2018, due to low staffing levels. The USDA, which previously had “two to three” AFIDA specialists, now has six, Vilsack told the House appropriators.
But, but, but: Vilsack said the agency is still “limited” in what it can do to enforce reporting. It can assess penalties, but tracking day-to-day land purchases would require a “clearinghouse” of land deeds from every county recorder’s office, an idea that Vilsack said farmers would oppose.
USDA mulling staff bonuses
USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation, Robert Bonnie, told the American Coalition of Ethanol Thursday the department would be looking at providing retention bonuses to maintain and build county staffing levels.
“There's a cost to all that stuff,” he said, but added, “There's a cost to not having those folks in the building.”
Another big week for US corn export sales
Foreign buyers – mostly from China – contracted to buy about a million metric tons of U.S. corn for the week of March 17-23, according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. While that’s a drop-off from the previous week’s totals, it’s still substantial, and the Chinese purchases remain impressive, says Collin Watters, director of exports and logistics for the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and the Illinois Corn Growers Association.
Chinese buyers snapped up 709,200 tons during the seven-day period and separate daily reports out of FAS show those purchases are continuing. FAS on Wednesday reported 204,000 tons of corn sold to China and another 178,000 tons Thursday.
The recent spike in U.S. corn sales to China “shows that U.S. origin (corn) is competitive now and it’s a good thing for farmers. We’ve still got grain to sell,” Watters says.
BLM emphasizes conservation in management proposal
The Bureau of Land Management is stressing conservation in a major proposal addressing how the agency plans to care for its 245 million acres in 12 Western states. BLM says it plans to apply “the fundamentals of land health … to all BLM-managed public lands and uses.” Current policy “limits their application to grazing authorizations.”
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In the proposed rule, which has yet to be published in the Federal Register, BLM says it would employ conservation leases to advance its goals. However, those leases would not preclude grazing, mining, and recreation. Leases, the agency said, “should not disturb existing authorizations, valid existing rights, or state or tribal land use management.”
User fee bill could lower animal drug costs
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is preparing to move a legislation reauthorizing FDA’s animal drug user fee programs ahead of their expiration on Sept. 30. FDA has heard from industry stakeholders on current challenges within the animal health market, including the rising cost of pet care and limited options available, committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said at a hearing Thursday
“It is clear that we need more innovative and affordable medicines on the market,” Rodgers said, adding that a proposed agreement on generic drugs “should help get more lower cost animal drugs to farmers and pet owners.”
Take note: The newly appointed director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, Tracey Forfa, said CVM is working with the Reagan-Udall Foundation to ensure that their antimicrobial resistance strategy is “strong and robust” as it establishes its future five-year plan on reducing antimicrobial resistance.
He said it. “Why do a farm bill, if we're not going to take care of farmers?” – Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., to Agri-Pulse Newsmakers.
Steve Davies, Noah Wicks, Bill Tomson and Jacqui Fatka contributed to this report.
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