House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., says he still intends to get a farm bill through the House this year, despite the ongoing turmoil in the chamber. Agri-Pulse had a chance to ask him about the legislation during a small impromptu news conference in the Capitol basement Monday evening.

Asked about the timeline for bringing up a bill, McCarthy said, “It’s not an easy bill to get through, but I think people have really worked at it …. I see us eventually being able to get that bill done.”

Pressed on whether a bill would move before the end of the year, he said, “Yeah, we’re going to try to get that done.”

McCarthy said House Ag Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson “has done a tremendous job” gearing up for the bill. “He’s really traveled the nation,” McCarthy said, referring to the listening sessions and other informal events Thompson has held around the country.

Keep in mind: McCarthy has much bigger problems to deal with for the foreseeable future than the farm bill. A possible government shutdown is looming Oct. 1 when the new fiscal year starts, and opposition was growing Monday to a stopgap spending bill that was worked out over the weekend between members of the Main Street and Freedom caucuses.

McCarthy remained defiant about the threats from some hardline conservatives to try to remove him. “If you think I'm quitting, it's never going to happen,” McCarthy said.

DHS proposes to clarify language about charging prohibited fees to farmworkers

The Department of Homeland Security wants to make it clear that prospective seasonal farmworkers cannot be charged fees, which can turn into debts they cannot afford to pay.

Responding to “reported widespread abuses” of the existing prohibition, DHS said in a proposal announced Monday that it was expanding the definition of what it considers a prohibited fee and said it plans to hold H-2A petitioners “accountable for any prohibited fee-related violation by … third parties, with only an extremely limited exception.”

The proposal applies to both the H-2A program and the H-2B program for non-agricultural workers.

National Council of Agricultural Employers President and CEO Michael Marsh was critical of the proposal. 

“Our members are on the front lines of supporting compliance with the regulatory scheme,” he said. “I feel for some of them; it is demoralizing to have to continually account for those who do not take compliance as seriously as they do.” NCAE is already suing the Labor Department over an H-2A rule published last fall.

The proposal will be published in the Federal Register Wednesday and includes a 60-day public comment period.

Agriculture, Education secretaries call for more HBCU funding from states

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona sent letters to governors of 16 states Monday pressing for resources for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

According to the Biden administration officials, the 1890s institutions collectively received $12 billion less in state-level funding than 1862 land-grant institutions from 1987 to 2020. All told, HBCUs in the various states have been shortchanged to the tune of $172 million to $2.1 billion over those 33 years.

Receiving the letters were the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Two other states – Delaware and Ohio – also have HBCU institutions, but those are “equitably funded,” according to a USDA press release.

EU beef and pork production continue downward slide

Revised forecasts from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service show European beef and pork production sliding to record lows in 2023 and 2024 while production costs increase and exports decrease.

“Dairy and beef cattle farmers face reduced profit margins due to high feed, energy, and labor prices,” the FAS office in The Hague says in a new analysis. “Another challenge for the industry is new regulations imposed by the European Commission (EC), which require financial investments and changes in farm management practices.”

Don't miss a beat! Sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! For the latest on what’s happening in agriculture in Washington, D.C. and around the country, click here.

Spain overtook Germany as Europe’s largest pork-producing nation in 2020, but Spanish producers are also suffering from disease outbreaks, high input costs and shrinking demand from China.

California finds success with universal school meals

California schools served 826 million meals during the 2022–23 school year, the first year of the state’s School Meals for All program that guarantees free breakfast and lunch for all K–12 public school students. 

Preliminary data from the California Department of Education show the state’s schools outpaced other states: California served two million more school meals in 2022–23 than in 2018–19, compared to a decline of 270 million meals in the rest of the country. 

Research shows that in addition to increasing student participation, universal school meals improve student diet quality, attendance rates and academic performance. Eight states have passed permanent policies providing free school meals to all students,” the Center for Ecoliteracy, which advocated for the free meals program, said in a press release.

California State Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley says she “championed California’s first-in-the-nation School Meals for All to ensure that all of our K–12 students are well-nourished and ready to learn. 826 million meals is a testament to the success of this program and the commitment of California’s school nutrition professionals.”

Stabenow, Crapo push for rural veterinarian tax break

Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Senate Finance Committee ranking Republican Mike Crapo of Idaho introduced a bill Monday to ease a tax burden for rural veterinarians. 

Their Rural Veterinary Workforce Act would exempt participants in the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program – offered to veterinarians who commit to a three-year stay in underserved communities – from federal withholding tax. The exemption would also cover pauyments from “similar state programs,” according to a release. 

The pair also championed the bill in the previous Congress. The bill boasts a dozen additional cosponsors, a House companion led by Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., and 17 cosponsors. More than 100 organizations offered their support to a letter backing the bill.

“After the legislation received a historic level of support in the previous Congress, we look forward to working with the congressional champions to enact this bill and help rural communities across the country access the many essential services veterinarians provide,” Rena Carlson, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, said in a release.   

Send comments to Associate Editor Steve Davies.