The Senate Agriculture Committee is wading into the controversy around foreign ownership of U.S. cropland. A long-expected hearing on the issue is scheduled for next Wednesday. 

The witnesses will include Gloria Montaño Greene, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for farm production and conservation. USDA is responsible for enforcing reporting requirements for foreign farmland purchases. Harrison Pittman, director of the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas, and Michigan State University economist David Ortega also will testify. 

Take note: The Senate voted 91-7 in July to bar investors from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea from buying U.S. farmland and agricultural companies. The vote came on an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill. The House Ways and Means Committee advanced a tax package in June that includes a proposed 60% excise tax on purchases of land by individuals or businesses based in China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela.

USDA: GAO decision affirms handling of CCC

USDA says a legal decision from the Government Accountability Office shows Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is properly using his Commodity Credit Corporation spending authority. The GAO decision says in part that Vilsack clearly had the authority under the CCC Charter Act to use the account to fund the $3.1 billion Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities initiative. 

The decision comes as Vilsack is preparing to use the CCC to provide $1.4 billion for market promotion assistance and $1.1 billion for international food assistance at the request of leaders of the Senate Ag Committee.

“USDA will continue to use these funds in this way to address the needs of American producers, such as navigating significant and unpredictable challenges, including a changing climate and global food insecurity in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine,” a USDA spokesman said in a statement to Agri-Pulse

But, but, but: Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican who asked GAO for the decision, says it shows Congress needs to restrict Vilsack’s use of the account.

Republicans advance FY24 budget

House Republicans pushed their fiscal 2024 budget blueprint through the Budget Committee on Wednesday. The “Reverse the Curse” budget resolution calls for balancing the budget in 10 years without making any cuts in farm bill spending. Among other things, the bill would repeal $129 billion in spending and tax incentives provided by the Inflation Reduction Act. 

Take note: The budget blueprint is largely symbolic, but it lays out GOP priorities going into the 2024 election. By avoiding cuts in farm bill spending, it doesn’t create any new problems for the House Ag Committee. 

Wednesday’s Daybreak incorrectly said the resolution was for FY23. 

SEC rule seeks to prevent greenwashing by investment funds

In an effort to prevent greenwashing, the Securities and Exchange has strengthened a requirement that at least 80% of the value of a fund’s assets are invested in line with “the investment focus that the fund’s name suggests,” according to a final rule approved by the SEC Wednesday.

The increasing importance placed on companies’ Environmental, Social and Governance goals has led more investment funds to focus on areas such as sustainability or social responsibility.

“Extending this rule should prevent situations where a fund technically conforms to the 80% rule but contradicts the fund name with the remaining portion of the holding,” said shareholder representative group As You Sow. “An example of this is a fund with ‘fossil-fuel free’ in the name that includes fossil fuel holdings in the 20% basket.”

“Greenwashing,” the final rule says, “involves the risk that funds marketing ESG strategies may exaggerate their ESG practices or the extent to which their investment products take into account ESG factors.”

Ag employers respond to DOL’s proposed H-2A rule

The National Council of Agricultural Employers says the Biden administration's proposed new protections for H-2A workers are an “undisguised end run” around the Supreme Court. The court ruled in 2021 that a California regulation allowing union activists to recruit on farms was unconstitutional. 

The Labor Department’s latest proposed rule specifically allows labor organizations to be invited and accepted guests at employer-provided guestworker housing. It also would allow labor organizations to be present at any meeting between an employer and employee that may result in discipline. 

Michael Marsh, NCAE president and CEO, says the proposed rule would make H-2A workers “vulnerable to these union organizing tactics to which we and our employees object.” 

NCAE also criticized the language used by the agency to announce the proposal, calling it “stunning in both arrogance and its disconnectedness from the reality of the DOL’s own evidence in what seems an apparent attempt to cast shade falsely and disrespectfully at farmers and ranchers.” 

Senators introduce food aid bill mandating U.S. commodities

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced the Senate version of the American Farmers Feed the World Act of 2023, which would limit the Food for Peace program to providing U.S.-grown commodities for food aid. The program couldn’t be used for cash assistance. The House version was introduced in June

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.

Supporters of the legislation say it’s needed to ensure American crops aren’t replaced by cash assistance and foreign commodities in Food for Peace, but humanitarian groups say the ban on cash assistance would hurt those who need food. 

The Senate bill is sponsored by Republicans Mike Braun of Indiana, Roger Marshall of Kansas and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, and Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester. 

USDA: US cherry production and exports rebound

U.S. cherry production is now expected to rise to 421,000 metric tons for the 2023-24 marketing year, a 100,000-ton increase from the previous year when harsh weather damaged crops, according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. 

Tart cherry production is suffering this year “due to cold spring temperatures and frost in Michigan,” but gains for “sweet cherries in California, Oregon, and Washington” will more than make up for it, FAS said in its latest Stone Fruit: World Markets and Trade report.

“Higher supplies are expected to drive a rally in exports, nearly doubling to 82,000 tons and boosting shipments to most markets,” FAS said in the report. “If realized, the United States would surpass Turkey and again become the leading Northern Hemisphere exporter.” 

He said it. “He's pretty good at pulling rabbits out of hats, and my guess is we'll see another rabbit, and he'll get us through without a shutdown and push us towards a negotiated settlement.” – House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.