A lawmaker who’s close to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., says Republicans are trying to work through potentially thorny issues with the farm bill before it gets to the floor. 

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., told reporters that the appropriations process is part of the effort to have “hard conversations” about issues ahead of the farm bill debate. “Let's invest the time early on, so that we can work through those issues, rather than having them build up and manifest later on,” Johnson said. He didn’t go into detail about how that process is taking place but indicated that the fiscal 2024 appropriations bill for USDA is part of it. 

Why it matters: Farm bills were defeated on the House floor in 2013 and again in 2018. 

By the way: Johnson, who was talking to reporters Tuesday along with House Ag Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, worked with McCarthy during negotiations on the debt-ceiling agreement, but he insisted Thompson will continue to have the lead role on the farm bill. “When it comes to the farm bill, I'm working for GT Thompson. … If there is something that GT thinks I can be helpful with, then I’ll be helpful,” Johnson said. 

Check out our weekly Agri-Pulse newsletter for a look at the unusual way House Democrats are developing farm bill proposals. We also have stories on US-China trade, carbon sequestration pipelines, values-aligned food purchasing and other issues. 

EPA commits to timelines on pesticide reviews

EPA will issue a final strategy by March 30, 2024, addressing the impact of herbicides on endangered species and laying out mitigation measures.

The agency made the commitment in a proposed settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity that pledges a draft herbicide strategy will be out by the end of the month and also includes timelines for complying with Endangered Species Act interagency consultation requirements.

EPA will, for example, examine the effects on species nationwide of eight organophosphates, including acephate and phosmet. 

“This landmark agreement will help the EPA do what it's supposed to do under the [ESA] by systematically restricting dangerous pesticides in the places that are most crucial to the most endangered wildlife,” said Stephanie Parent, CBD senior counsel and lead co-counsel on the case.

CropLife America CEO and President Chris Novak said the settlement “represents another important step in EPA’s work to improve the ESA review process for pesticide registration decisions. We appreciate the engagement on these improvements and will continue to work with stakeholders as the process continues.” 

Refiners’ RFS compliance deadline challenge rejected

EPA does not have to provide a certain amount of time to comply with Renewable Fuel Standard reporting requirements, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a ruling Tuesday, rejecting arguments by two refineries.  

Wynnewood Refining Company and Coffeyville Resources Refining & Marketing contended that the so-called “extension rule” issued in February 2022 illegally compressed compliance and reporting deadlines for RFS years 2020-2022. 

“When EPA fails to timely issue renewable fuel standards, the Clean Air Act does not bind the agency to provide obligated parties a minimum of 13 months’ compliance lead time, nor does it require compliance intervals of at least 12 months,” the court said in its decision.

Farm and food worker groups hold congressional briefing

Food workers and farmworkers urged lawmakers at a congressional briefing Tuesday to pass legislation to protect workers from heat stress and create a mandatory maximum line speed in processing plants, among other things.

The briefing was hosted by the Farmworkers Association of Florida, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, the HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Topics also included potential worker protections for pesticide exposure and wildfire smoke. The groups are hoping to see these issues addressed in the upcoming farm bill.

Take note: Rep. Greg Casar, D-Tex., told briefing attendees that he was planning to help co-sponsor a bill called the Agriculture Worker Justice Act, which he said would include some of the measures the groups are pushing for. He said he is currently working to gather signatures for the bill and plans to introduce it soon. 

UN, Ukraine look for alternative to Black Sea Grain Initiative

United Nations and Ukrainian leaders are looking for an alternative way to get grain out of Odesa ports after Russia pulled out of the deal Monday, effectively shutting it down.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “will continue to explore all possible avenues to ensure that Ukrainian grain, Russian grain and Russian fertilizer are out in the global market,” a spokesman said Tuesday. “That is a determination of his. There are a number of ideas being floated. I think also questions need to be asked of ship operators and others.”

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Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke Monday with Guterres on alternatives to revive the initiative, and talks may happen soon with Turkish officials.

Agriculture Department announces partnership with state AG’s on competition issues

The Agriculture Department is partnering with more than two dozen state attorneys general to look more deeply into anticompetitive practices in food and agricultural markets like price gouging as part of a White House effort to promote competition.

The partnership, according to a USDA fact sheet, will provide more resources allowing state attorneys general to conduct “on-the-ground assessments of competition and consumer issues," while also cultivating coordination between state and federal agricultural competition efforts. 

The agency will also work with the nonprofit Center for State Enforcement of Antitrust and Consumer Protection Laws to create an “oversight committee to establish the project governance and transparency standards for the partnership” and an advisory committee to review project requests and recommend approval. 

She said it: “Every blocked ship, every spike in global grain prices, every wasted harvest means another parent who can't feed a child. I have traveled to Kenya and seen mothers nursing newborns suffering from acute malnutrition. I have talked to families in Lebanon, who could no longer afford to feed their families because of the increase in food and fuel prices.” – That was U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power, denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to terminate the Black Sea Grain Initiative. She was speaking Tuesday at the Port of Odesa in Ukraine.

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