The House and Senate are both in action this week, as the clock ticks toward the federal government hitting the debt ceiling as soon as June.

Ahead of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s meeting with President Joe Biden on Tuesday, 43 Republican senators have released a letter backing McCarthy’s demands for spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. That’s a sufficient number of senators to stop the Senate from taking up a debt ceiling bill they don’t like. 

“Our economy is in free-fall due to unsustainable fiscal policies. This trajectory must be addressed with fiscal reforms,” says the letter, released Saturday.

Take note: On Friday, the Congressional Budget Office will release an updated baseline, or cost forecast, for farm programs that will be critical for writing a new farm bill. The baseline will be used to estimate the cost of making modifications to the farm bill, including increasing reference prices. “There's lots of stuff that needs to be scored” by the CBO, the top Republican on the Senate Ag Committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, tells Agri-Pulse.

By the way: The debt ceiling stalemate isn’t slowing down the farm bill. Boozman says it’s unlikely the committee will be ready to take up a bill before the August recess. “I think the debt ceiling (debate) will play out well in advance before we actually have to make final decisions” on the farm bill, Boozman said.

For more on this week’s D.C. agenda, read our Washington Week Ahead.

Ag sector managing rising interest rates

Farm balance sheets look good today, but rising interest rates and higher farm expenses will pressure farm finances moving forward, according to the latest quarterly economic outlook published by the major ag credit lender Farmer Mac. 

Typically, when financial conditions tighten in farm country, farmers look to their working capital to provide relief. When working capital declined from 2014 to 2018, farmers were able to utilize short-term financing at relatively low interest rates. “However, the average interest rate on agricultural production loans is 48% higher today than during that period,” the report says.

Many farmers and ranchers locked in historically low interest rates between 2020 and 2022, but the new interest rate has been increasing at the fastest climb since the 1970s as the Fed attempts to address rising inflation. 

The report also notes that agricultural banks entered 2023 better positioned to endure the current economic period of rising interest rates than Silicon Valley Bank, which defaulted in March. “The rising and elevated interest rate environment may continue to stretch bank liquidity and cause financial stress, but ag lenders came into 2023 in an excellent position to endure heightened volatility,” the report states.

EPA takes next step in review of neonicotinoids

A new Environmental Protection Agency analysis shows that the neonicotinoids clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid may jeopardize the continued existence of between 9% and 11% of federally listed threatened or endangered species.

In general, neonicotinoid insecticides provide control of a variety of piercing and sucking pests, including those that cause plant diseases, such as aphids and whitefly, the agency said.

On the insecticide clothianidin, EPA projects it is “likely to adversely affect and EPA predicts that use may cause jeopardy to 9% of listed species and adversely modify 4% of critical habitats. For imidacloprid, EPA says it is “likely to adversely affect and EPA predicts that use may cause jeopardy to 11% of listed species and adversely modify 3% of critical habitats.” And for thiamethoxam, EPA states it is “use may cause jeopardy to 11% of listed species and adversely modify 4% of critical habitats.”

EPA said it’s providing its analysis to the Fish and Wildlife Service so it can make the final determinations.

Partnership to reduce humanitarian needs and support long-term hunger solutions

The UN World Food Program and the UN Environment Program signed an agreement in Nairobi on Friday which “advances collaboration on climate change adaptation, nature-friendly food systems, water resource management and ecosystems restoration.”  

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Cindy McCain, WFP’s executive director, says, “Food and water go hand in hand: we urgently need to restore our ecosystems and scale up climate adaptation programs to ensure future generations have the basic resources needed to grow enough food. WFP’s global footprint and operational scale, combined with UNEP’s world-class scientific expertise, will help governments, communities and families on the frontlines of the climate crisis better protect themselves. Our partnership will reduce humanitarian needs and support long-term solutions to hunger.” 

Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director, says by the two organizations working more closely together, meaningful impact can be created. “We can deliver on both our mandates and reduce the vicious cycle of humanitarian and environmental crises,” Andersen said. 

USDA seeking soil conservationists to help with IRA conservation programs

The Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is seeking to bolster its staffing numbers to help roll out $19.5 billion in Inflation Reduction Act conservation program spending.

The agency announced Friday it is accepting applications for soil conservationist positions in 46 states and U.S. territories. Conservationists help farmers plan and implement conservation and carbon mitigation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, the agency said.

Phil Brasher, Jacqui Fatka and Noah Wicks contributed to this report. Questions, comments, tips? Email