We’re getting some clues as to what may or may not be in the next farm bill, and how lawmakers are trying to address some key priorities for farm groups ahead of taking up the legislation. 

Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee disclosed Wednesday that they’ve asked Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to use his Commodity Credit Corporation spending authority for market development assistance and to increase international food aid. The request comes as commodity groups have been asking lawmakers to double funding for trade promotion programs in the next farm bill. 

Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., noted to reporters that lawmakers are under tight budget constraints as they write the new farm bill and that the CCC could help address some issues outside of that legislation. 

"This is about giving us the flexibility to be able to meet what we believe are very high needs … and at the same time be able to do it in a way that gives us flexibility to meet other needs,” she said. 

USDA released a statement to Agri-Pulse saying that the department was considering the senators’ request. 

Senate set to debate ag spending bill

The Senate is moving forward next week with debating a package of three fiscal 2024 spending bills, including the measure to fund USDA and FDA. Depending on the amendments that will be considered, the floor debate could open the door to debating issues affecting farm programs or USDA and FDA. 

The top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Susan Collins, told reporters she hopes there will be “a robust amendment process.” A member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Montana Democrat Jon Tester, told Agri-Pulse he expects a fairly open amendment process. 

The key question is how many and what types of amendments will be allowed. 

Governors urge Congress to keep hands off state ag laws 

The National Governors Association is raising objections to federal legislation that would pre-empt state laws such as California’s Prop 12, which prohibits the sale of whole pork derived from the offspring of sows raised in gestation crates.

NGA lays out its farm bill positions in a letter to the House and Senate ag committee chairs and ranking members. The governors’ priorities include opposition to the EATS Act, which would override the ability of states to pass laws in a wide variety of areas, not just animal welfare.

“States succeed when the federal government avoids granting a private right of action against states that maintain their own production or manufacturing standard on agricultural products,” according to the NGA letter. 

By the way: The letter says governors “strongly support robust investment in the Market Access Program,” one of the programs that ag groups want to expand.  

USDA critics appeal GMO disclosure ruling

A group that’s taken USDA to court repeatedly over the regulation of genetically modified crops is continuing a battle over rules for biotech food disclosure. In an appeal filed with the 9th Circuit, the Center for Food Safety is challenging what it calls a “loophole that allows most GMO foods to go unlabeled.” 

CFS sued USDA over the disclosure regulations in 2020 and won a district court ruling in 2022. However, the group is appealing a portion of the ruling that supported USDA’s decision to not require disclosure of highly refined ingredients that can’t be detected in foods. 

CFS attorney Meredith Stevenson says the 2022 ruling “rubber-stamped USDA's decision to exclude highly refined foods – like sodas and oils – from labeling and to use unfamiliar terminology, keeping us largely in the dark about how our food is produced."  

Russian attacks on southern Ukrainian grain ports continue

Southern Ukrainian grain ports and ag infrastructure were hit again Wednesday by Russian missiles, continuing the Moscow campaign aimed at disabling Ukraine’s alternative export routes, according to the United Nations. 

Ukraine’s primary ports for ag exports in Odessa were closed after Russia ended the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The alternative export route through the Danube River isn’t nearly as strong, but Russia has been trying to shut that down by destroying infrastructure.

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“Repetitive attacks on Ukrainian ports are depriving farmers of their livelihood and the world of affordable food when millions are facing hunger in the poorest countries,” said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.

SD nixes permit application from Navigator CO2 Ventures

South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission has denied a permit for a carbon dioxide pipeline to run through the state.

The PUC turned down an application from Navigator CO2 Ventures, which has proposed to build its Heartland Greenway project through Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska. The North Dakota PUC recently voted to deny an application from Summit Carbon Solutions, which is reapplying.

The three commissioners voiced various objections to the permit applications at the meeting Wednesday, including the fact that many landowners along the route oppose the pipeline.

"My conclusion is that this project would substantially impair the welfare of the inhabitants,” Commissioner Chris Nelson said.

Navigator's take: The company said it was "disappointed" but "remains committed to responsible infrastructure development." Navigator said it would examine the official decision when it's issued later this month "and determine our course of action in South Dakota thereafter."

Why it matters: The pipelines are seen as critical to lowering the carbon intensity of ethanol. 

He said it. “It’s a good deal for workers. It’s a good deal for companies, and it’s a good deal for the United States of America.” – President Biden on Wednesday, congratulating leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association for the contract agreement they ratified last week to keep West Coast ports operating for the next six years.

The ports of Oakland, Los Angeles, Long Beach and others are key for shipping beef, pork, dairy, produce, tree nuts, fruit, hay and other commodities.