The Senate Ag Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing next Wednesday for Xochitl Torres Small to be deputy ag secretary. Torres Small, a former New Mexico representative who has been serving as USDA’s undersecretary for rural development, would succeed Jewel Bronaugh, who left USDA earlier this year.

Also on the committee’s agenda: A Senate Ag subcommittee today is bringing in representatives from the banking and crop insurance sectors for a hearing on risk management and credit issues. The hearing comes amid concerns about the impact of rising interest rates on farmers and congressional interest in expanding the availability of crop insurance. 

Democrats push CFIUS expansion

Senate Democrats are working on legislation aimed at increasing competition with China, which they hope will garner bipartisan support.

The bill will include priorities from several committee chairs, including Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. At a press conference Wednesday with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Stabenow said she was particularly interested in giving the agriculture secretary and FDA commissioner permanent spots on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which reviews commercial transactions for national security implications.

CFIUS members already can — and do — invite the heads of USDA and FDA to help with reviews of ag-, food- and drug-related transactions. Becoming permanent members of the committee would require both agency heads to sign off on every transaction CFIUS oversees, including those in sectors unrelated to ag or food.

By the way: Some senators, including Jon Tester, D-Mont., have proposed using CFIUS to block China and other foreign adversaries from purchasing U.S. land and agricultural companies. “It’s not going to be easy to get Treasury and CFIUS to do this,” Tester told Agri-Pulse about his proposal, the PASS Act. “We’re going to have to beat the crap out of ‘em because I personally don’t think they want to wade into this pool. It’s gonna be hard.”

Senate votes to block ESA listing

The Senate voted 50-48 Wednesday to overturn the Biden administration’s listing of the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act. The vote was largely symbolic since the White House has threatened to veto the measure. 

In November, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the southern population of the bird in eastern New Mexico and across the southwest Texas Panhandle as endangered. The northern population, which includes southeastern Colorado, south-central to western Kansas, western Oklahoma and the northeast Texas Panhandle, is listed as threatened. Farmers and ranchers oppose the listing, which took effect March 27.

Kansas GOP Sen. Roger Marshall said he started hunting the birds as a kid and that their populations in Kansas are still stable. The ESA listing “Ignored decades of conservation efforts,” he said. But Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., said the resolution of disapproval undermines the ESA by violating the “basic premise that the law should be applied based on science and not politics.” 

Regan pledges help on E15

EPA Administrator Michael Regan defended the administration’s WOTUS rule at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday, and he pledged to work with Nebraska Republican Sen. Deb Fischer on renewable fuels. 

“I look forward to partnering with you and your staff with technical assistance to be sure that we can make E15 more accessible,” Regan told Fischer. 

On WOTUS, Regan said he has met with the ag community more than any other administrator and tried to craft a “durable” rule defining “waters of the U.S.” – difficult to do when each new definition sparks lawsuits. Current litigation has resulted in court rulings that have stayed the Biden rule in 26 states.

EU agrees to ban Ukraine ag from five countries

The European Commission has agreed to temporarily ban the sale of Ukrainian wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seed inside five EU countries. The ban, which runs from May 2 through June 5, doesn’t block Ukraine from sending the farm commodities through Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia to be sold elsewhere in the EU or beyond.

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Farmers in the five European countries surrounding Ukraine contend a flood of Ukrainian grain has been depressing local prices

“While addressing concerns of farmers in those Member States neighboring Ukraine, the measures uphold the EU's strong commitment to support Ukraine and preserve its capabilities to export its grains which are critical to feed the world and keep food prices down, in the face of the huge challenges posed by the unprovoked Russian aggression,” the commission says.

Looting takes big toll on food aid for Sudan

The United Nations is pressing warring factions in Sudan to allow the safe entry of food assistance, but looting is taking a major toll on supplies already in the country. A UN spokesman confirmed Wednesday that 17,000 metric tons of food have been stolen from UN storage sites across the country.

The UN has evacuated personnel from Sudan as fighting has intensified. But Martin Griffiths, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, is in Sudan now trying to negotiate safe passage for aid workers as well as medical and food supplies.

He said it. “You want a farm bill by end of September? Forget it. It ain't gonna happen.” - Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., on the potential impact of House Republicans refusing to agree to increase the debt ceiling.   

Noah Wicks, Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.