Lawmakers have their work cut for them when it comes to figuring out how to satisfy all the row crop producers with a stake in the farm bill commodity title. While many groups want some kind of increase in Price Loss Coverage reference prices, there’s no consensus yet on how to do that

The National Corn Growers Association notably called for modifying an escalator provision for reference prices. Other groups would favor an increase in the statutory rates, with one group arguing that the escalator is too slow to react to changes in markets. 

Take note: Another commodity issue that’s surfacing is what to do, if anything, about base acres. Payments under PLC and the Agriculture Risk Coverage program are based on farmers’ historical plantings, or base acres, rather than what they grow in a given year. Some farmers lack base acres, or they’ve shifted to growing different commodities. 

Rep. Austin Scott, the Georgia Republican who chairs House Ag’s Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities, Risk Management and Credit, confirms to Agri-Pulse that there’s some discussion on the Hill about tying payments to planted acres, rather than base acres. He said there are two parts to the discussion: “How do you do a voluntary base update, but also how do you take care of people that are producing that don't have base acres?”

Some of the farm groups testifying Wednesday expressed support for a voluntary base update that would allow farmers to add new base. 

Why it matters: Switching payments to planted acres has been a hot-button issue in the past, because it could run the risk of violating international trade rules. But a base update could be costly. Scott noted lawmakers have other issues they’ll need funding for, specifically mentioning a need to expand crop insurance for specialty crops.

GOP debt plan clears hurdle

Republicans have won House passage of their plan to slash federal spending and raise the debt ceiling. A key roadblock was cleared when the GOP leadership agreed at the behest of Midwest Republicans to protect a set of biofuel-related tax incentives

The bill, which passed, 217-215, essentially establishes the GOP negotiating position for negotiations with the White House and Senate Democrats on the debt ceiling. 

Key Senate trio may hold Labor nominee’s fate

Julie Su’s nomination as labor secretary still faces a difficult path to Senate confirmation, but she made it through a committee Wednesday on a party-line, 11-10 vote.

Three key senators – Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, and Independent Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – haven’t said whether they will support Su, who has been deputy secretary for nearly two years.

The vote on that nomination was 50-47. Manchin, Tester and Sinema all voted for Su then. Before joining the Labor Department, Su was California labor secretary. 

Also: Jessica Looman, who was cleared to be Wage and Hour Division chief by the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee on March 28, is also awaiting a full Senate vote. She has been the acting chief since the start of the Biden administration.

Vilsack leans on Japanese to allow US spuds

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Japan over the weekend to attend a G7 summit, and he also took the opportunity while he was there to meet with his Japanese counterpart and press for the country to lift its ban on table stock potatoes – the kind of spuds consumers buy in grocery stores.

Japan has been considering its approval for import of the U.S. potatoes for about five years, and Vilsack said he’s optimistic it won’t take much longer.

“I’m hopeful we could see progress on this in a relatively short period of time, given the fact that a number of years have gone by,” he said.

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Japan already allows the import of U.S. chipping potatoes. The National Potato Council says the market for table stock potatoes would be worth $150 million a year.

USAID: Ethiopian war rivals teamed up to steal US food

Former warring factions in Ethiopia colluded to steal food aid sent by the U.S. Agency for International Development to help those facing famine conditions in the country, according to USAID Administrator Samantha Power.

The theft was fairly substantial, although some of the food was recovered after investigators discovered the U.S.-branded products in markets, Power told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

The theft apparently took place sometime after a truce was signed in early November by Ethiopia’s government and leaders of the breakaway northern region of Tigray.

NRCS mulls changes to conservation practice standards

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is asking for comments on proposed changes to its national conservation practice standards, including the addition of automated drainage management structures to that particular standard.

Other changes include “strengthened requirements to account for effects of nutrients and hazardous gases when implementing anaerobic digesters,” NRCS said in its notice, published in today’s Federal Register.

“Anaerobic digestion of livestock waste can increase (the) amount of nitrogen that is converted to ammonia and subsequently emitted from the resulting wastewater,” the proposed practice standard for digesters says. “Recovering energy could reduce fossil fuel combustion and associated emissions, thereby reducing the net effect of greenhouse gases and improving air quality.”

He said it. “That would be a major disaster if something like that were to happen to us.” – Tom Haag, president of the National Corn Growers Association, when asked about the impact of cuts to crop insurance that would lead large growers to drop out of the program, potentially raising rates for other growers.