We’re still months away from seeing a new farm bill on the House and Senate farm bill, but ag groups could get a look as soon as next month at the challenges they may face in protecting crop insurance and other programs. That’s because the coming floor debates on the fiscal 2024 spending bill for USDA could give critics of farm bill programs a chance to test various amendments. 

The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, told reporters Thursday that voting on amendments during the appropriations debate will indicate how much support the proposals could have when the farm bill is being debated later. The votes will “tell us what we’ve got to work on,” he said. 

By the way: The House and Senate are on a collision course over the Agriculture appropriations bill, which funds USDA and FDA. There is a $9 billion gap between the House and Senate bills, if you don’t count the $8 billion in spending rescissions that are used to fund the House version.

Thompson: Draft farm bill possible by August

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., said draft language for the House bill could be available by August. Thompson was speaking at a Bloomberg Government event on Thursday.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, who also spoke at the event along with the ranking members of the two committees, didn’t commit to a schedule for bill introduction. Stabenow, D-Mich., said she wouldn’t be surprised if Congress has to pass a brief extension of the 2018 bill.

By the way: USDA’s livestock disaster assistance would get a boost under a Senate proposal introduced by Hoeven and Montana Democrat Jon Tester. They believe their Livestock Disaster Relief Act would better align the Livestock Forage Program (LFP) and Emergency Assistance for Livestock Program (ELAP) and increase LFP assistance by more accurately compensating for feed costs. The bill also would ensure transportation expenses for feed, water and livestock are covered losses. 

Senate Democrat welcomes bipartisan H-2A task force

Senate Ag Committee member Peter Welch, D-Vt., is praising Thompson for creating a bipartisan task force to recommend fixes for the H-2A visa program. Speaking on Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, Welch says it remains to be seen whether the recommendations could pass Congress, given the political difficulty of addressing immigration policy. 

“Put it this way, it's really worth the effort. And this is a positive step,” Welch said of the 14-member working group.

This week’s Newsmakers will be available today at Agri-Pulse.com.

USDA scientists see progress on avian flu vaccine

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service says several highly pathogenic avian flu vaccines have shown promise in initial testing. 

ARS scientists evaluated two HPAI vaccines developed in-house by USDA and two commercial HPAI candidates. The study results “showed promising signs” in reducing virus shedding, “but more research needs to be conducted to evaluate the duration of immunity in chickens from the different vaccine candidates through this fall and winter,” an ARS spokesperson says. 

Don’t miss a beat! It’s easy to sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! For the latest on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and around the country in agriculture, just click here.

USDA still believes that even in the best-case scenario, it will take 18 to 24 months to come up with a vaccine that matches the now-circulating virus strain, is available in commercial quantities, and can be administered to commercial poultry, the spokesperson says.

UN agencies begin work to rid Ukraine farmland of mines

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program have launched new efforts to destroy Russian mines left behind in Ukrainian farmland in an effort to boost agricultural production in the war-torn country.

The UN agencies, together with a Switzerland-based demining organization, are starting with small farms, including households that only grow food for their own consumption. 

“Many families and small-scale farmers in front-line regions are not planting this season because they know their fields are dangerous or they are risking their lives to plant on mined lands or contaminated soils,” said Pierre Vauthier, head of FAO’s Ukraine Country Office.

U.S. managing better than other countries on inflation

The United States is dealing “relatively better on inflation,” lawmakers were told at a House Budget Committee hearing Thursday on the Trump administration’s tax policy and President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.

“The U.S. inflation rate is lower than other developed countries such as in Europe,” said Mark Mazur, a former assistant secretary of the Treasury for tax policy. 

But Will McBride, vice president of the Tax Foundation, says the IRA was sold politically on the basis that it would reduce deficits, and that the cost of the bill’s green energy credits has been  underestimated. “If there’s no deficit reduction in this bill, there goes the idea that it reduces inflation,” McBride said.

She said it. “I'm going to ensure that we adhere to the deal that President Biden and Speaker (Kevin) McCarthy negotiated, and Congress passed just a few weeks ago. That includes making use of all of the resources in that agreement, honoring its terms and working at every step of the way to lessen the blow of the cuts and caps.” – Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., as the committee prepared to debate its first fiscal 2024 bills.