A key House Republican wants to reinstate a restriction on USDA’s use of its Commodity Credit Corp. Rep. Andy Harris, who chairs the House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee, claims Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack misused the CCC to fund the $3 billion Partnerships in Climate-Smart Commodities initiative. 

“My intention is to … return the Commodity Credit Corp. to its core function,” Harris said in an interview with Agri-Pulse Newsmakers. 

Congress imposed the restriction during the Obama administration but removed it in 2018 as then-President Donald Trump ramped up his trade war with China. Trump subsequently used the CCC to provide billions in trade assistance to U.S. farmers as compensation for China’s retaliatory tariffs. 

“We have to pull some of that authority back into Congress where it belongs,” Harris said.

Take note: Harris would likely have trouble getting his Senate counterparts to agree to a CCC restriction, but this issue could well surface in the farm bill debate as well, because of the potential budget savings it would yield.

Vilsack has strenuously defended the legal basis for his use of the CCC, most recently in an exchange with Harris at a March 30 hearing. Vilsack notes that he has spent far less from the account than his predecessor, Sonny Perdue, did. The CCC is a revolving account that’s used for a range of purposes, including disaster assistance and purchases of surplus commodities. 

This week’s Newsmakers will be available today at Agri-Pulse.com.

Some climate-smart project signups expected this spring

Producer signups for those climate-smart projects should start by this spring, a department spokesperson says. USDA on Thursday announced a learning network that will be part of the initiative, which is aimed at developing markets for commodities that can be marked as low-carbon.

USDA “currently has executed 35 grant agreements from the first funding pool with over 10 more grant agreements that have completed negotiations and are in final review,” the spokesperson. Seventy projects totaling $2.8 billion are in the first funding pool.  “Multiple grant agreements in the second funding pool also are close to being finalized, the spokesperson says. That pool has 71 projects for which $325 million has been allocated.

Census Bureau: Ending emergency SNAP benefits hurts food security

The end of pandemic-related increases in SNAP benefits are having a significant impact on food security, according to a Census Bureau analysis of its household survey data.

Some states ended the extra benefit early on their own, while the increase expired in the remaining 32 states on March 1. 

The Census Bureau says one in 4 households in those 32 states now say they “sometimes” or “often” fail to have enough to eat. That estimated level of food insufficiency is now identical to what it is in states that ended the benefit increase early. 

“Though the long-term consequences of this policy change remain unclear, these data illustrate the role extra SNAP benefits played in providing recipients the resources necessary to meet their basic needs,” the analysis says. 

Companies agree to mitigation for insecticide

EPA says registrants of the herbicide diazinon have agreed to implement mitigation measures to reduce occupational risk.

Drexel and Adama US agreed to the measures following release of an occupational risk assessment that found the organophosphate insecticide “posed potential risks of concern to workers who mix, load, and apply the pesticide, and to bystanders (including farmworkers) who could be exposed to spray drift,” EPA said.

Among the steps being taken: Cancellation of aerial applications, backpack and mechanically pressurized handgun applications, and wettable powder formulation, the agency said. The companies also committed to spray drift reduction measures, “including buffer restrictions for residential and institutional sites to reduce exposure to bystanders.”

More on the way: EPA is also working with registrants of three other organophosphates — ethoprop, tribufos, and phosmet — ahead of its registration review schedule to mitigate for worker exposure.

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World Bank forecasts continued fertilizer price relief

The World Bank is projecting continued declines in fertilizer costs through 2024. The bank’s latest commodity markets forecast says, “Following an expected 37 percent decrease in 2023, the fertilizer price index is projected to fall by 7 percent in 2024 as supply disruptions gradually ease and energy input prices fall, but the index will remain at high levels.” 

The fertilizer index dropped 18% in 2022, but it’s still well above the pre-pandemic level. DAP prices are forecast down 24.9% this year, while potassium chloride (potash) prices are expected to decline 45%. 

Prices for grains and other ag commodities are expected to decline 7% this year and likely fall again in 2024.

FAO sounds alarm over coming of El Niño

The La Niña global weather pattern that brought drought to the Horn of Africa is gone, but the UN Food and Agriculture Organization is already preparing for the coming of El Niño. The meteorological event that pushes weather patterns in the opposite direction of La Niña is imminent and threatens Central America, Far East Asia, the Caribbean, northern parts of South America and Southern Africa.

“Early warnings mean that we have to take early and anticipatory action, and we will support our members in these efforts, to the full extent resources allow,” said Rein Paulsen, head of the FAO’s Office for Emergencies and Resilience.

El Niño, caused by the warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean, is expected to begin causing drought, flooding and storms as early as June, FAO says.

He said it. “I’m sure your sugar high may have worn off by now.” - FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, speaking to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Sugar Reduction Summit.