President Joe Biden is due to meet again today with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as they struggle to reach an agreement to increase the debt ceiling. The two talked by phone Sunday as the president headed back from Japan to Washington.

Ahead of his departure, Biden told reporters that he still believed "we'll be able to avoid a default and we'll get something decent done."

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, meanwhile, told NBC's Meet the Press that June 1 was a “hard deadline” for Congress to act, although she continues to be careful to only say “early June” is the point at which the government could default.

On the Hill this week: The House Appropriations Committee will debate a series of fiscal 2024 bills that lay out its priorities for spending increases and cuts. That list includes the FY24 agriculture spending measure, which funds USDA and FDA.  

Democrats call the Ag bill a “sham proposal” that relies on USDA funding rescissions that would be unlikely to materialize in time to be used in FY24, which starts Oct. 1. Without those rescissions, the bill would slash USDA’s funding for FY24 to $17.2 billion, which would be the lowest spending level since 2006.

Ag Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., says the bill “prioritizes essential functions while being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars supporting the core mission.” 

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

Black Sea grain shipments still hindered despite deal

The process of clearing vessels to load and deliver Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea is resuming after a deal announced last week by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to keep the trade flowing.

However, activity has slowed and some trade is being hindered, according to Ukrainian officials. The three Ukrainian ports kept open by the Black Sea Grain Initiative are Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi.

“Russia's month-long blockade of Pivdennyi seaport continues,” said Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov in a tweet Sunday. “Despite efforts by (the United Nation-led Joint Coordination Center), Russia refuses to inspect and register incoming vessels to the deepest port in order to cut (grain) export.”

As of Friday, three loaded vessels were preparing for inspection to leave the Black Sea and three other vessels were cleared to dock at the ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk, according to a UN spokesman.

“We call for the prompt return to a tempo of operations that makes full use of the capacities of the three ports and the Joint Coordination Centre teams,” the spokesman said.

Iraq wheat production on the rise

Good rains and growing weather mean Iraq is likely to produce 4.3 million metric tons of wheat for the 2023-24 marketing year, up from about 3.9 million for 2022-23, according to a new analysis by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Iraqi imports are expected to remain strong – about 3.8 million tons – despite the bump in production because consumer demand is high, says the FAS office in Baghdad.

“In addition, there is a high chance that Iraq will continue to import wheat from the United States as the Grain Board of Iraq is limited to only importing from the United States, Canada, and Australia. Furthermore, the (government) has increased investment in storage capacity and supply chain for wheat, particularly in the northern region, allowing increased capacity.”

USDA updates organic dairy assistance

To help organic dairy producers mitigate market volatility, higher input and transportation costs, and unstable feed supply and prices, USDA announced Friday it will be providing $104 million through the Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program to account for higher projected marketing costs in 2023. USDA’s Farm Service Agency begins accepting applications Wednesday.

The Organic Trade Association says data from Mercaris, a market research firm specializing in organic agriculture, “shows the average price of feed for organic dairy cows jumped by nearly $200 per head from 2018 to 2022.”  

Adam Warthesen, co-chair of the OTA’s Feedstuffs Relief Task Force, says resources such as ODMAP are “really going to matter as farmers plan for the rest of this year” to deal with unprecedented feed costs and inflationary pressures. OTA is urging USDA to work with the industry to release more funds “in a timely fashion to ensure that the full allocated amounts reach those dairy farmers in need.”

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“If every organic dairy farmer in the country applies for this assistance OTA anticipates just $30 million would be spent,” OTA says.

Eligible producers include certified organic dairy operations that produce milk from cows, goats and sheep.

Construction on Lock and Dam 25 underway

Construction has begun on a new lock chamber at the Mississippi River's Lock and Dam 25, located near Winfield, Missouri.

The Army Corps of Engineers held a groundbreaking event at the dam on Thursday to mark the start of the $732 million project, a 1,200-foot-by-110-foot lock chamber. The chamber will allow a 15-barge tow to move through the lock without disassembling into two parts, according to Soy Transportation Coalition Executive Director Mike Steenhoek.

The Corps expects work on the lock to be completed by 2034. 

He said it: “We’ve already begun working on legislation to make sure that issues like Proposition 12 can be resolved so that growers in a place like Iowa are able to sell to consumers in a place like California without a … state embargo getting in the works of this. We’ve seen it go into farm bills in the past, very similar language, so I know that there’s a pathway for it.” — Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Iowa, on potential legislation to override California’s Proposition 12.

Questions, comments, tips? Email associate editor Steve Davies.