New CBO baseline doesn’t help farm bill, Ag Committee economist confirms

The chief economist for Senate Ag Committee’s Republican staff says the Congressional Budget Office’s new farm program forecast does nothing to help lower the cost of making improvements in commodity programs that ag groups are seeking. 

“Nothing in the prices that we got out of CBO dramatically changes the farm bill math in terms of modifications to Title One programs,” the committee’s John Newton said Monday during an Agri-Pulse webinar.

In the case of the Dairy Margin Coverage program, the math is even more challenging than it was before. CBO is now projecting lower milk prices, raising the potential costs of DMC enhancements many producers want, Newton said. Similarly, he noted that CBO has essentially doubled the projected cost of livestock disaster assistance programs, rendering changes to those programs more expensive as well.

Meanwhile: CBO also sharply increased the projected cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in part because about 1 million more people will be on the program this year than previously forecast. Jacqlyn Schneider, a former top aide to Senate Ag Chair Debbie Stabenow, said on the webinar that SNAP is a slower economic indicator.

“As the economy recovers from challenging times and recessions, we frequently see SNAP lagging in its transition back to a normal baseline, and this is largely because people do tend to take a little bit of time to continue to participate on SNAP before they get their wages to a level” that they can leave the program, she said.

Looking ahead: Schneider believes it could take until 2024 for Congress to finish the new farm bill. She expects the debt ceiling talks to delay the process to some extent. President Biden is scheduled to meet today with congressional leaders on the debt ceiling issue. Congress has until early June to take action.

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Ukraine ag exports drop off as talks on Black Sea Grain Initiative continue

A high-level meeting in Istanbul last week involving Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations failed to result in an agreement to prevent the collapse of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, but the talks will continue, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday.

Meanwhile, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths warned the UN Security Council that inspections to allow vessels in and out of the Black Sea have slowed drastically, preventing Ukraine from exporting wheat, corn and other ag commodities. 

The UN proposed during the meeting that Ukraine allow the reopening of a pipeline that allows Russia to export ammonia – something Russia has demanded in the past – and UN officials continue to work with banks, shippers and insurance companies that are concerned about the risk of doing business with Russian fertilizer companies.

Ukraine has accused Russian inspectors in the Bosporus Strait of intentionally blocking inspections as a way to emphasize Russia’s displeasure with obstacles to its fertilizer exports.

Nearly $11B available from Rural Utilities Service

Rural electric cooperatives and other providers are getting a big boost from the government with the formal announcement today of $10.7 billion in funding for renewable energy projects.

In particular, the New Empowering Rural America program, at $9.7 billion, “is designed to begin the process of allowing the rural electric cooperatives to essentially reach parity, if you will, with the privately owned utility companies that have already begun significant investment” in renewable energy projects, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said on a call with reporters Monday.

“When you have the opportunity through a grant, through a low-interest loan, through the ability to stack benefits with tax credits and investment tax credits, and to utilize additional investments from the infrastructure law, you create the kind of incentive that's going to encourage a lot of our (electric cooperatives) to express interest.”

Another $1 billion in loans is being made for projects involving a more narrow set of renewable categories – solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric and geothermal.

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House Ag Leaders to states: Step up HBCU funding

Leaders of the House Agriculture Committee are appealing to governors and state legislators to increase their ag-related funding for historically black colleges and universities.

"These institutions, originally established to support the education of Black students, continue to help bridge the gap in underserved communities, diversifying American agriculture and developing the pipeline of talented minds joining our agricultural workforce,” says a letter led by House Ag Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson of Pennsylvania and ranking Democrat David Scott of Georgia

The letter notes that states failed in fiscal 2022 to fully match the USDA funding that was provided to HBCUs in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, Texas and West Virginia. By comparison, all 50 states fully matched funding for the traditional land-grant universities, the letter says. 

USDA looking to fill urban agriculture advisory committee

The Department of Agriculture is looking to fill four positions on the Federal Advisory Committee for Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production.

The group provides input on policy development surrounding urban agriculture.

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USDA is seeking nominations for one individual to represent urban agriculture, one to represent an extension program or institute of higher education, one to represent business and economic development interests and one to represent indoor farming or other emerging agricultural production practices, which may also include urban farming.

The public can submit nominations until July 15.

Sudan crisis causing soaring food prices in Egypt

Impacts of the military violence between warring factions in Sudan are spilling over into Egypt, where food prices are rising sharply, according to an analysis by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. 

“Sudan is a major agriculture and livestock exporter, as well as a logistical hub for Africa,” says the FAS office in Cairo, but that trade has come to a halt, and Egyptian supplies of beef and other commodities are dwindling as prices surge.

Egypt, normally a large importer of Sudanese cattle, is looking to other countries like Chad and Somalia.

He said it: “This obviously is not going to be done in a year or two. It's going to take time, but this is a pretty significant start,” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack speaking to reporters about $10.7 billion in upcoming renewable energy spending.

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