Farmers and bankers are pressing lawmakers to maintain and even expand access to crop insurance through the next farm bill. That was a theme again on Wednesday when the House Agriculture Committee held its latest listening session, this time in Minnesota. 

“We want every farmer of every commodity in all regions of the country to participate in crop insurance the same way that we do in Minnesota,” said Richard Syverson, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. In some places, that may mean lowering deductibles or pushing USDA’s Risk Management Agency and the private sector to be more aggressive in developing products, he said. 

Howard Olson, a senior vice president of government and public affairs with AgCounty Farm Credit Services, suggested Congress reduce farmer premiums on higher levels of crop insurance coverage in areas such as northern Minnesota, North Dakota and Pennsylvania. 

“The 85% coverage level is used considerably in southern Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and so on. But it's too expensive in other parts of the country where farmers are purchasing at the 75% and lower levels,” Olson told lawmakers. 

“Increasing the premium support for the 80% and 85% coverage levels will allow farmers … to insure at the higher levels,” he said. 

By the way: These listening sessions often turn up issues that seldom surface at more formal hearings in D.C., and Wednesday was no exception. Adam Ulbricht of the Minnesota Bison Association urged lawmakers to stop imported water buffalo meat from being labeled “buffalo.”  

“Just call it ‘water buffalo,’ and we’ll be good,” Ulbricht said. 

Elsewhere: In a Zoom call Wednesday, the Environmental Working Group, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other like-minded groups called on Congress to protect the Inflation Reduction Act funding that’s earmarked for conservation programs. “A farm bill that doesn’t protect the Inflation Reduction Act funding puts farmers and ranchers not only at a disadvantage, but in a position where their livelihoods are threatened,” said NSAC Policy Director Mike Lavender.

FAS: China’s ag imports up this year despite sluggish economy

China’s economy isn’t recovering post-pandemic as expected, but the country’s ag imports are on the rise this year according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. China’s ag imports rose by 8.3% in the first six months of 2023, compared to the same time frame in 2022, according to an FAS report.

“Import volumes were mixed, with significant increases in vegetable oils and soybeans, modest increases in meats and grains, and lower volumes of cotton, dried fruits and nuts, and logs and timber,” says the FAS bureau in Beijing, which collects data from China’s General Administration of Chinese Customs, or GACC.

China imported 52.6 million metric tons of soybeans in the first half of this year, a 13.6% increase from the same period in 2022. The U.S. share of those imports totaled 19.7 million tons, a 12.4% increase.

Ukraine wants to use Croatia’s ports to export grain

Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi continues his quest to open new routes for corn and wheat exports, and this week he was in Croatia to press officials there about shipping grain from ports on their long Adriatic Sea coast.

Solskyi, who’s also hoping to ship grain to ports in Slovenia and as far away as the Netherlands, is still in talks to get the European Union to subsidize transportation for Ukrainian grain. Ukraine can no longer export out of its massive ports in Odesa after Russia terminated the Black Sea Grain Initiative last month, and Russia has lately been bombing Ukrainian grain silos on the Danube River.

FDA eyes using partnership to get antimicrobial data

FDA is looking at ways to gather and analyze data on the use of antimicrobials in animals raised for food. The agency can’t require end users to report such data, but a new report from the Reagan-Udall Foundation examines the potential of using a public-private partnership, or PPP. 

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Working with the foundation, “FDA has been exploring … whether a PPP could balance the need for public health information with practical concerns of the veterinary professionals and producers who would voluntarily contribute to the data repository,” FDA says

The Reagan-Udall report released Wednesday says the limited amount of data available on food-producing animals “makes it challenging to improve antimicrobial stewardship and to better understand the relationship” between antibiotic resistance and usage of the drugs. A public comment period on the report ends Oct. 31.

FSA pilot program could expedite loan processing

USDA’s Farm Service Agency is kicking off a pilot program to expedite the processing of direct operating loans and farm ownership loans to qualified farmers and ranchers.

The Application Fast Track Pilot Program “provides an alternative underwriting process for applicants that meet certain financial benchmarks,” FSA says in a Federal Register notice today. The program will be available at some FSA offices starting Aug. 7, and nationwide starting Feb. 1. It will run through Sept. 30, 2024.

By analyzing more than 100,000 direct loans, FSA identified financial variables and minimum thresholds that are reliable indicators of whether a debt will be repaid. 

He said it. “The farm bill is going to be a lift, there’s no question, because there are many divisions in our country that exist.” – House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., speaking at the House Agriculture Committee listening session on Wednesday. Emmer’s job is to ensure that bills that get to the floor have the support they need to pass.