bipartisan measure being introduced today in the House and Senate would increase the number of technical service advisers available to help farmers take advantage of USDA conservation programs.

Among other things, the bill would require USDA to set up a process to approve non-federal certifying entities. The idea is to ensure that agricultural retailers, conservation organizations, cooperatives, and members of professional societies can become service certifying entities. USDA also would have to set up a streamlined certification process for technical service providers who have specialty certifications, such as certified crop advisers.

Take note: The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Mike Braun, R-Ind., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Roger Marshall, R-Kan. The House measure is sponsored by Jim Baird, R-Ind., and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va. Bennet, Marshall, Baird and Spanberger lead the Senate and House Ag subcommittees that oversee farm bill conservation programs. 

Why it matters: Terry Cosby, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, says that meeting the demand for conservation services due to the Inflation Reduction Act funding will require  both agency and private resources.

For more on the farm bill, including a look at a debate over base acres, read our Agri-Pulse weekly newsletter. We also break down the new membership of the House and Senate Ag committees and look at the policy concerns of indoor agriculture. 

Farmers mixed on farm bill prospects 

Farmers are sharply divided on whether Congress will pass a new farm bill this year to replace the 2018 law. Some 40% of growers surveyed for the monthly Purdue University-CME Group ag barometer believe it’s at least somewhat likely a new bill gets enacted in 2023.  But 29% of the producers surveyed say a 2023 bill is very unlikely and 13% say it’s somewhat unlikely. 

Corn and soybean growers were also surveyed about which parts of the bill are most important to them. Some 40% said crop insurance, 31% said commodity programs, and 13% picked the commodity title. 

Regan appears today before Senate appropriators 

EPA Administrator Michael Regan is likely to face more questions today about the “waters of the U.S.” rule and what impact the Supreme Court’s pending decision in a Clean Water Act case may have on it.

The Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee will have Regan to themselves as the administrator makes the rounds on Capitol Hill to defend his agency’s $12-billion-plus proposed budget, which would be 19% above the current year’s level.

Take note: Members of the subcommittee include Democrats Jon Tester of Montana and Republicans John Hoeven of North Dakota and Deb Fischer of Nebraska, virtually guaranteeing Regan will get a chance to discuss farm issues.

Haaland defends conservation rule at Senate hearing

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Tuesday defended the Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to give conservation equal footing with other public land. Members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee expressed concern that the agency didn’t take ranchers’ perspectives into account when considering the rule.

Pressed by both Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Haaland said the BLM rule wouldn’t “foreclose any other uses of public lands.” 

Haaland also said the rule is “not final by any means” and the agency will consider comments that it receives from members of the public, including ranchers.

Vilsack moving ahead on regional food business centers

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is expected today to announce the organizations selected as finalists to establish USDA Regional Food Business Centers, part of USDA’s efforts to create a more resilient, diverse, and competitive food system. Vilsack will be on a press call with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Debbie Phillips, who serves as the CEO of Rural Action in southwest Ohio. 

USDA announced last September that $400 million would be available to fund the initiative to assist small and mid-sized producers and food and farm businesses. 

SCOTUS to hear arguments on Chevron doctrine

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving the Chevron doctrine, a longstanding principle that courts should defer to federal agencies’ interpretations of laws, when those laws are ambiguous.

The court granted a petition filed by Atlantic herring fishermen who object to having to pay the salaries of federal observers who are on board their vessels.

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Arguing for the court to at least clarify the doctrine, which is widely used by courts in deciding administrative law cases, the fishing companies said “lower courts continue to feel obligated to apply it because the (Supreme) Court has not yet formally overruled it.”

The case will be argued in the next term, which begins in October, and likely be decided sometime in 2024.

Cattle producers laud Texas labeling bill

The Texas Legislature has passed legislation that would make the state the 15th to pass a truth in labeling bill aimed at protecting how imitation meat or cell-cultured products are labeled. 

The legislation requires “analogue products” to be clearly labeled with one of the following: “analogue; meatless; plant-based; made from plants; or a similar qualifying term.” The bill, which needs the signature of Gov. Greg Abbott, also would require all cell-cultured products to be labeled as either cell-cultured, lab grown, or a similar qualifying term.

“The passage of SB 664 represents the outstanding work of elected leaders who not only care about Texas consumer rights, but also protecting the rights of cattle raisers,” says Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association President Arthur Uhl. “These bills ensure consumers are more informed and understand the source and origin of their food.”

She said it. “I worry about the folks who have never done a farm bill – we have 240 people in the House and Senate, most in the House – who don’t understand what this means to rural America and agriculture.” – Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., speaking at a Senate Ag hearing Tuesday about the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations and the 2011 budget deal. The 2011 agreement led to annual, across-the-board cuts to spending for agriculture and other programs.