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President Joe Biden is putting a focus on the farm bill today. The White House has called a meeting for late this afternoon or evening with the four leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees. Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., stressed in an interview with Agri-Pulse that the discussion is likely to be fairly general in nature. 

“I'm sure it will be very positive. The president's very supportive of us getting a strong bipartisan farm bill,” Stabenow said. 

House Ag Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson told Agri-Pulse he’ll stress that the farm bill needs to address the needs of producers. He said the committee leaders aren’t ready to discuss details of what should be in the bill. 

Take note: Thompson doesn’t expect Biden to raise the issue of the debt ceiling. If he does, “I’ll make clear that it’s not relevant to the farm bill,” Thompson said. 

Thompson elaborates on ag workforce plan 

Thompson will give a special House Ag Committee task force six months to study the needs ag workforce needs with a view of developing a bill that would increase the availability of legal farmworkers. Next week, Thompson will circulate information about the task force to see who wants to serve on it. 

Thompson says he’s made Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, aware of his plans. Any bill that would facilitate more foreign workers would ultimately have to go through Judiciary, which has many Republicans who are hard-liners on immigration policy. 

Bottom line: Thompson says he wants a bill that the ag sector – and most members of House Ag - can “rally around.”

Panetta with UC Davis student.jpgUniversity of California-Davis student Sergio Bocardo-Aguilar with Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., talking about SNAP work requirements.

Dems target easing work rules for students

Even as Republicans look to expand work requirements to people in their 50s, Democrats are mounting an effort to exempt college students from those rules. The work requirements have been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the public health emergency officially ends today, bringing the rules back into effect. 

Democrats say the requirement that able-bodied adults without dependents work at least 20 hours a week to qualify for SNAP isn’t practical for full-time students, many of whom already are struggling just to pay for school. 

“When students have their basic needs met, data shows that they have better graduation rates, and better academic success,” UC-Davis student Sergio Bocardo-Aguilar said during a news conference with California Reps. Jimmy Gomez and Jimmy Panetta. Senate Ag Committee member Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is sponsoring a companion Senate bill. 

Take note: The bill’s prospects aren’t good in the GOP-controlled House. But Democrats want to start building support for the measure, hoping it gets attached to the farm bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate. 

Negotiations begin to save Black Sea Grain deal 

High-level talks are starting today in Istanbul to try to salvage the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a United Nations-brokered deal between Ukraine, Russia and Turkey that allows for the export of Ukrainian grain through its ports in Odesa despite the ongoing war.

UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths arrived in Istanbul Wednesday for the talks amid rising Russian frustration over the deal. Russia, which is still demanding that restrictions be removed from its fertilizer exports and international sanctions be lifted on the Russian Agricultural Bank, has been sporadically halting inspections of grain-laden vessels trying to enter and leave the Black Sea.

As of Monday, Ukraine has shipped about 30 million metric tons of grain and other ag commodities under the initiative, according to the UN. 

Regan defends e-RINS proposal – kind of

EPA Administrator Michael Regan didn’t exactly defend his agency’s proposal to allow electric vehicle makers to generate e-RINs under the Renewable Fuel Standard program at a hearing Wednesday.

But he did stress that it’s only a proposal.

Recent reporting from Reuters has cast doubt on whether EPA will move forward with the e-RIN plans, which was included in the latest proposal to set future Renewable Volume Obligations.  Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, said she found the idea “punitive, since Congress specifically designed the RFS program to encourage the use of domestically produced biofuel blends.”

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“We don’t have an e-RINS program,” Regan said.

Organic sales set record, but with a caveat 

Sales of organic food topped $60 billion for the first time last year, but inflation was a factor in the increase over 2021.  

The Organic Trade Association’s annual industry survey shows $67.6 billion in total sales of organic products in 2022. Organic food sales made up the vast majority of that, at $61.7 billion. “We’re being honest here, inflation is an impact on the organic sector,” OTA CEO Tom Chapman told reporters. “Organic generally follows trends that we're seeing in grocery and consumer sectors overall, where growth has come from pricing, but unit volume is down.”

Organic produce racked up $22 billion in sales to lead all categories and accounted for 15% of all U.S. fruit and vegetable sales).

By the way: Purdue University’s latest consumer survey asked about purchasing habits for organic food. About 30% of consumers said they often or always buy organic fruits and vegetables. The least-purchased categories: Pasta, rice, and cereal, bread, and canned goods.

Ag leaders look ahead to COP 28 

Food systems and emission reduction practices dominated a fireside chat on the final day of the AIM for Climate Summit. The conversation looked ahead to deliverables for the December COP28 conference in the United Arab Emirates

Mariam Almheiri, the UAE’s minister of climate change and environment, promised that "food systems and agriculture will be center stage" of the event in Dubai. She noted the need to encourage young "agri-technologists" to create innovative solutions for the industry.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack received a round of applause when he said, "Agriculture will get to that net-zero future first before any other industry in the United States." 

He said it. “I’m beyond calling it climate change. It’s a crisis.” - John Kerry, Biden’s presidential envoy for climate, at the AIM for Climate summit. 

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