Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee are working together to get a year-long extension of the 2018 farm bill included in a new continuing resolution that will be needed to keep the government funded after Nov. 17. 

The top Republican on the Senate Ag Committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, confirmed to Agri-Pulse on Wednesday that he’s working with Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to move the extension this month, rather than waiting until December. 

“That doesn't mean we have to take a year to pass a farm bill, but it takes the pressure off of us. It takes the pressure off of farmers, and then we're continuing to do our best to get a farm bill in a better situation,” Boozman said. 

Keep in mind: A year-long extension moves the deadline for passing a new bill to the lame duck session after the 2024 election. And it could be tough to get lawmakers to cut deals until they know which way the election is going to go. Boozman said he expects farm groups to keep pressure on Congress to act on the legislation. 

By the way: House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., met with Senate Republicans on Wednesday and reiterated his plan to move a CR that would fund the government until Jan. 15 and trigger a 1% across-the-board cut in spending. Johnson “wants to start finding ways to reduce spending,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., said Johnson emphasized he’s going to follow the consensus of his conference on issues. He told the senators his role is to “govern the conference, and get a consensus of the GOP conference and where it's going to head,” Mullin said. 

Senate passes FY24 spending package

The Senate easily passed a package of three fiscal 2024 spending bills Wednesday that includes the measure to fund USDA and FDA. The package, which passed 82-15, also includes funding for the departments of Transportation and Department of Veterans Affairs. 

The bills are funded in line with the levels in this spring’s debt ceiling agreement and are largely free of controversial policy riders. The House version of the Agriculture spending bill remains in limbo. The House defeated the measure in September because rural Republicans rejected the deep cuts it would make in USDA, and some swing-district GOP members balked at restrictions on the abortion drug mifepristone. 

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the Senate spending measures passed Wednesday were “reasonable and serious bipartisan bills” that have a chance of becoming law, unlike the partisan bills House Republicans are moving. 

Bayer hit again with big jury award in Roundup case

In a fresh blow to agribusiness giant Bayer, a jury has awarded $332 million to a plaintiff who claims exposure to Roundup caused his cancer.

This week’s verdict – $7 million in compensation and $325 million in punitive damages – came following a trial in San Diego County Superior Court in California. Plaintiff Mike Dennis prevailed on his claim that Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018 for more than $60 billion, had failed to warn him of the dangers of using Roundup.

However, a spokesperson for the company told Reuters that the jury ruled for the company on Dennis's negligence and defective design claims. Lawyers for Dennis were not immediately available for comment. The punitive damages will almost certainly be reduced under Supreme Court precedent limiting their size.

By the way: A few days before the San Diego court verdict, Bayer lost a case in Philadelphia where a Roundup plaintiff was awarded $175 million, including $150 million in punitive damages.

USDA official: Inflation played a role in food insecurity jump

Stacy Dean, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food and nutrition services, tells Agri-Pulse that inflation was one factor behind the startling increase in food insecurity last year. USDA found that 12.8% of households were food insecure last year, up from 10.2% the year before. 

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She says “food inflation was also a key issue at the end of 2022” because of supply chain hiccups and “a number of other issues,” including the phasing out of an increased child tax credit and a reduction in pandemic-related food assistance. 

Poll: Inflation top concern for rural voters

A survey of rural voters in 12 swing states shows widespread concerns about the cost of living. Some 54% of the people polled chose inflation as one of their most important issues; 25% chose retirement and Social Security, while 19% said health care.

When asked to pick among a list of policy proposals, Republicans, Democrats and independents all chose this one: “We need to reduce inflation and make life more affordable because, from gas to groceries to prescription drugs, the cost of living is too expensive for working families.”

The survey was conducted by Lake Research Associates, a Democratic polling firm, for the Center for Rural Strategies, which runs the Daily Yonder news site. 

Why it matters: Republicans continue to see inflation as a winning issue heading into 2024, and the survey shows why it could be. 

By the way: Biden is viewed unfavorably by 66% of the rural voters surveyed. Trump is viewed unfavorably by 48%. 

Valadao re-election bid downgraded

The Cook Political Report has updated its ratings on 2024 House races and moved Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., to the toss-up column from “lean GOP.” Cook analyst Dave Wasserman says Democrats “likely have a better chance of retaking the House than keeping the Senate” in 2024. 

Valadao, who serves on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, is no stranger to tough races in his Central Valley district. He lost his re-election bid in 2018 but got the seat back in 2020. 

She said it: “What we have done here — finding common ground to produce reasonable, bipartisan bills — is not just a template, it is the only way to get our jobs done in a divided government.” – Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., on the package of FY24 spending bills approved Wednesday.