CBO baseline provides little help to lawmakers

The Congressional Budget Office is out with new cost estimates for farm bill programs, and the numbers aren’t going to do much to help the House and Senate Ag committees write a new farm bill. In a few cases, the new baseline could make it harder to make the changes producers are seeking.

 Why it matters: The CBO is using lower market price projections for some commodities, including cotton and dairy, that will increase the cost of raising the Price Loss Coverage reference price for cotton or easing rules in the Dairy Margin Coverage program.

For other commodities, it appears “unlikely that the revised CBO baseline will greatly reduce the CBO scores associated with raising reference prices, as some had hoped," says Pat Westhoff, who directs the Food and Agricultural Policy and Research Institute at the University of Missouri.

Don’t miss our webinar at noon EDT today on the status of the next farm bill with John Newton, chief economist for the Senate Ag Committee's GOP staff, and Jacqlyn Schneider, a former top Democratic staffer on the panel. The discussion will cover a wide variety of issues, including the CBO baseline update. Sign up for the webinar here.

Biden: Debt ceiling talks ‘moving along’

President Joe Biden is expected to meet again with congressional leaders early this week to talk about a possible deal to raise the debt ceiling. Biden told reporters Saturday the discussions are “moving along.”

Keep in mind: CBO said Friday there was a “significant risk” the government could default in the first two weeks of June. CBO also raised its estimate of this year’s budget deficit to $1.5 trillion and predicted that deficits would nearly double over the next 10 years to reach $2.7 billion in 2033.

 For more on the debt ceiling talks and this week’s D.C. agenda, read our Washington Week Ahead

 California Republican says farm labor task force needed

 House Ag Committee member Rep. John Duarte, R-Calif., says he supports the idea of a task force to study farm labor in the hopes of developing a bill that would increase the availability of legal farmworkers.

 House Ag Committee Chair and Pennsylvania Republican Glenn “GT” Thompson recently told reporters he would begin circulating information about the task force to other lawmakers this week to see who wants to serve on it. Duarte said the task force is a good idea and mentioned that he was already working with Thompson on legislation to "make farmworker housing a more attractive investment for farmers.”

 Take note: Duarte was one of two Republicans to vote against H.R. 2, a bill containing several Republican priorities relating to the border and immigration. Duarte told Agri-Pulse he approved of “99%” of the bill, but took issue with its E-verify clause, which he said would’ve caused “farm laborers to possibly be screened out.”

 “It moves us away from any kind of a DACA fix,” Duarte said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy for those born outside the U.S. but brought to the country as young children. “We’ve got kids here who’ve grown up in America, and that Verify component would’ve kept them from being able to work in America. So without that fix, I had to vote against the border bill."

 Australian wheat crop seen dropping sharply

 Australia’s wheat production is expected to plunge for the 2023-24 marketing year after three years of steady growth and record-high production for 2022-23, according to a new analysis from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

 Farmers are expected to produce 29 million metric tons of wheat for 2023-24. That’s a 26% drop from Australia’s 39-million-ton crop the previous year, but it will still be a relatively strong year for the country – up 4% from the five-year average and the sixth largest production on record.

 “At present, the soil moisture across most growing areas is favorable for sowing and establishment of winter crops, including wheat,” FAS says in its monthly World Agricultural Production report. “The area reduction is due to farmers having less suitable area available in their crop rotations after the previous three big-planted-area years.”

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 Farmers are making up for some of that acreage by planting less barley and canola, says FAS.

 Lawmakers press for Japan to increase access for US potatoes

 A bipartisan roster of 35 senators and House members is adding pressure on the Biden administration to push Japan to lift its ban on U.S. table stock potatoes – something Japanese officials say they’ve been working to do for about five years.

 “We strongly urge you to elevate this issue with your counterparts in Japan with the goal of receiving a (Pest Risk Assessment) before the upcoming bilateral negotiation this Fall 2023,” Reps. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., Dan Kildee, D-Mich., Sens. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and 31 other lawmakers said in a letter to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We believe that a resolution is only possible with strong political support in the United States.”

 Vilsack told reporters recently after a trip to Japan that he expects a breakthrough soon.

 Japan already allows for the importation of U.S. chipping potatoes, and the National Potato Council says American farmers could sell another $150 million worth of spuds annually if the country opens its market to U.S. table stock potatoes.

 FWS abandons ‘net gain’ as goal in mitigation policies

 Two new mitigation policies released by the Fish and Wildlife Service abandon the goal of a “net conservation gain” in habitat, instead opting for a goal of maintaining the current state of affected resources.

 “Based on public comments, changes in Executive Orders, and policy considerations, the service has removed reference to a mitigation planning goal of net conservation gain” from its general mitigation policy and Endangered Species Act policy, FWS said in a Federal Register notice announcing the policies.

 The service had previously withdrawn policies that sought a net gain in conservation resources.

 Philip Brasher, Bill Tomson and Noah Wicks contributed to this report.