Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is announcing plans today for a Soil Carbon Monitoring and Research Network that will be created as part of a $300 million investment by USDA in carbon measurement and verification. 

The funding, which was included in the Inflation Reduction Act, is part of a broader Federal Strategy to Advance Greenhouse Gas Measurement and Monitoring for the Agriculture and Forest Sectors, released today.

Why it matters: There have long been data gaps and questions surrounding the impact of farming practices on greenhouse gas emissions. 

“This new investment by USDA in improving data and measurement of greenhouse gas emissions … is unmatched in its scope and potential to increase accuracy, reduce uncertainty and enhance overall confidence in these estimates,” says Vilsack. “We’re data driven, and we seek continuous improvement in our climate-smart agriculture and forestry efforts.”

Ahead today: Vilsack and White House National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi will speak at

Michigan State University’s Universal Food Forum today in Washington. Agri-Pulse is a co-sponsor of the event, which will feature panels on a wide range of issues, including food security, global regulations and trade, and science communication.

Senators look to tie Vilsack’s hands

Three GOP senators are proposing to restrict Vilsack’s use of the Commodity Credit Corp., which follows on the heels of a provision that House Republicans have included in USDA’s fiscal 2024 spending bill

“I’m concerned that the CCC is at risk of becoming a slush fund for politically driven pet projects,” says Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. His USDA Spending Accountability Act is co-sponsored by Sens. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, and Mike Braun, R-Ind.

USDA pushes back. “Far from being a ‘slush fund,’ CCC under the Biden-Harris Administration has been used strategically and responsibly to meet the documented, real needs from America’s farmers and communities, including many in these senators’ own backyards,” a spokesman said, noting that CCC spending has been lower than under the Trump administration. 

For a deep dive in the farm bill development process, be sure to read our weekly newsletter today. We also look at the FY24 appropriations process, the challenges facing a major carbon sequestration pipeline and the ongoing Midwest drought. 

Easements proposed to protect Ogallala Aquifer

Three senators from states overlying the Great Plains’ Ogallala Aquifer are proposing to expand the farm bill’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to allow voluntary groundwater easements. The goal is to prevent farmers from overpumping ground water.

A bill the senators are introducing would allow producers to enter into easement agreements with USDA that would require them to reduce their groundwater use. Farmers would be compensated based on the market value of the water right.

Why it matters: The Ogallala Aquifer is the backbone of agriculture on the central and southern Plains, but its water supplies have dwindled from overuse in parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. Water levels in these regions have dropped more than 100 feet since 1950, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

USDA petitioned to block ‘climate-friendly’ beef labels

The Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, is petitioning USDA to stop the use of “climate-friendly” labels on beef products, and require third-party verification and “on-pack” carbon disclosure for any similar labeling.

The group says “climate-friendly” claims made by beef companies like Tyson Foods are misleading. EWG says the company has cited use of agricultural practices such as tillage changes, cover crop adoption and nutrient management on its Brazen Beef brand products, but hasn’t provided data detailing the scope of these practices or demonstrated a reduction in methane from their use.

Tyson didn’t have an immediate comment.

Simplot to pay fine, make improvements at Idaho phosphate plant 

J.R. Simplot has agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine and make environmental improvements at a fertilizer plant in Pocatello, Idaho. 

Settling an EPA enforcement action, Simplot will implement waste management measures it has valued at nearly $150 million. EPA says these measures will include “extensive new efforts” to recover and reuse the phosphate content of plant waste. 

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Most of EPA’s allegations concerned violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, including that Simplot “failed to properly identify and manage certain waste streams as hazardous wastes. The settlement requires Simplot to implement process modifications designed to enable greater recovery and reuse of phosphate, a valuable resource,” EPA said.

Russia seen having record monthly wheat exports in July

Russia is expected to export a record monthly amount of wheat in July of between 3.7 million and 4.1 million metric tons, according to the consulting firm SovEcon. The July average is about 2.8 million tons, but record-high stocks and low prices are spurring trade, the firm said.

Russian wheat is selling for $232.5 per ton compared to $252 for French wheat on the Euronext MATIF exchange. 

Russian government data shows that on-farm wheat stocks were at 15.6 million tons at the beginning of June, far more than the 9.7 million tons at the same time a year ago, says SovEcon.

“The active export of Russian wheat could exert downward pressure on global wheat prices,” the firm said.

He said it. “One of the big remaining technological challenges for tackling the climate crisis is ensuring that natural solutions in agriculture and forestry are working well,” said John Podesta, White House senior advisor for  clean energy innovation and implementation.

Steve Davies, Noah Wicks and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.