There are signs of movement in that high-stakes dispute between the U.S. and Mexico over its ban on biotech corn. 

A government official tells Agri-Pulse that the U.S. and Mexican delegations have met under the USMCA dispute settlement process. The meeting demonstrates that progress is being made in the dispute proceedings over Mexico’s efforts to block imports of genetically modified white corn.

Tom Haag, president of the National Corn Growers Association, tells Agri-Pulse he’s pleased to see progress. “We’re happy to hear that they’re meeting and they’re discussing (the dispute),” Haag said. “That’s positive news for American corn farmers.”

The Biden administration demanded dispute consultations with Mexico on June 2 after technical consultations failed.

Senate Ag GOP: Farm input costs still high

The Republican side of the Senate Agriculture Committee is using fresh data from USDA to make the case that farm input costs are still elevated by historical standards, even if they’ve come off last year’s highs. According to an analysis by the committee’s GOP staff, USDA’s first cost-of-production forecast for 2024 shows that input costs will be the third highest on record and “only slightly lower than the record-high reached in 2022.”

USDA is projecting fertilizer and chemical costs to decline next year, but other expenses, including seed costs, will be higher. 

The report notes that fertilizer costs are 78% higher this year than in 2020 and that pesticide expenses are up 66%. 

Why it matters: Farm groups are pushing for increases in Price Loss Coverage reference prices, citing higher input costs. 

Senators eye farm bill to advance ag automation

A new bipartisan proposal for the next farm bill is aimed at spurring the use of artificial intelligence to mechanize the production of fruits and vegetables. 

A marker bill being introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., would authorize USDA to prioritize research grants for AI and for advanced mechanized harvester technologies. 

Keep in mind: The bill wouldn’t mandate new funding for automation research, which has been a top priority for specialty crop producers. 

More farm bill proposals roll in

The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, or GusNIP, and USDA’s Produce Prescription Program support the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables, but not frozen ones. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., are proposing to make frozen fruits and vegetables eligible.  

Meanwhile, more than 600 farm, food and health leaders sent a letter to House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders asking for some changes to GusNIP. One of their requests is to reduce or eliminate the non-government one-to-one match requirement. 

A Democratic bill being introduced in the House and Senate, the Local School Foods Expansion Act, would require USDA to set up a pilot program in at least 14 participating states for schools to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables with federal school lunch funding. Senate Ag members Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Peter Welch of Vermont are among the sponsors. 

EPA sued over lack of endangered species consultation on RFS

EPA is being sued for failing to conduct formal Endangered Species Act consultation with federal wildlife agencies about the impacts of its latest biofuel usage mandates. 

The Center for Biological Diversity says EPA should have reviewed how endangered species would be affected by land conversion as well as pesticide and fertilizer use. CBD says the agency only asked to consult with the agencies on May 19, four days after completing work on the rule, which was then formally published this week.

EPA says in the rule that the renewable volume obligations are “not likely to adversely affect listed species and critical habitat.” But the agency says it planned to proceed with informal consultation under the ESA and could revise it if necessary.

USTR Tai heads to Kenya next week

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai will be in Kenya for three days next week, and she’ll be working to ensure both countries are still “moving forward” on the United States-Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership, a senior USTR official told reporters Thursday.

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The Office of the USTR has said previously that the deal would improve agricultural trade by addressing non-tariff trade barriers. Kenya has since ended its ban on growing and importing genetically modified crops.

USTR officials said last year that Kenya’s tariffs won’t be on the negotiating table. U.S. rice exports face a 35% ad valorem tariff – about $200 per metric ton – in Kenya, according to the USA Rice Federation.

US putting $100M into improving African soil, farm management

The U.S. is providing $100 million to the Feed the Future program to help farmers in Africa save their yields and produce crops in the face of climate change. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the funding will go toward “mapping and analyzing soils, promoting better farm management, and mitigating drought effects. It will also foster crop varieties resilient to climate change, pests, extreme weather, and variable rainfall.”

He said it. “We ought to be insisting on the best possible farm bill that we can create. And if we can get it right, we can all celebrate. If we can’t, we may need to push the pause button.” – Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., at the roundtable held by the Democratic farm bill task force. Read our report on the roundtable here. 

Bill Tomson, Jacqui Fatka and Steve Davies contributed to this report.