Lawmakers are keeping the heat on USDA over the rules for the latest ad hoc disaster aid program. USDA’s method of pro-rating the payments for 2022 losses is falling the hardest on producers with the largest uncovered losses. 

The progressive payment factor USDA used to calculate how much farmers will get “acts as a de facto payment limitation, despite Congress’s clear direction on payment limitations, and reduces the ERP initial payment progressively as economic losses increase,” the Senate Agriculture Committee’s GOP staff says in a blog post. The USDA formula means “farmers with less than $30,000 in losses, an estimated 80% of farmers, will receive higher ERP program payments” than farmers with bigger losses. 

The blog post says USDA should pause distribution of payments under the Emergency Relief Program and reconsider the distribution formula. “Any effort short of that fails agriculture and fails family farmers who have already suffered significant economic harm due to extreme weather events,” the post says. 

USDA’s take: In a statement to Agri-Pulse on congressional complaints about the formula, USDA reiterates that Congress only provided $3.2 billion to cover an estimated $10 billion in losses: “Given that dynamic, choices had to be made in order to direct as much help as possible to those most in need. If members of Congress don’t like those choices, they can – and should – fight harder for more resources to allow USDA to fully cover farmers' losses.”

McConnell optimistic on 2024 farm bill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell thinks “there's an overwhelming likelihood” that Congress will enact a new farm bill sometime next year. McConnell made the comment in an interview with Agri-Pulse’s Jeff Nalley. McConnell didn’t elaborate on the reasons for his optimism. 

McConnell also stressed the importance of U.S. support for Ukraine, citing in part the country’s role in world food production. “Typically, the grain coming out of Ukraine keeps an awful lot of people and Africa and the Middle East from starving,” he said.

Nominees clear Senate Ag, await floor action

The Senate Ag Committee unanimously advanced a USDA and CFTC nominee Wednesday, clearing the path for both nominees to be considered on the Senate floor. 

Basil Gooden, the nominee to be USDA’s undersecretary for rural development, and Summer Mersinger, who is seeking another term on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, both advanced through the panel on 23-0 votes. The two nominees also shared a breezy confirmation hearing last week.

Data use limiting digital transformation on the farm

Agrifood businesses embrace digital transformation yet struggle with data, according to research findings published in the AgTech Trends 2023 survey released today by The Yield. The feedback from 807 U.S.-based agribusiness workers, including executive decision-makers, on-farm managers, agronomists, data scientists, IT specialists and go-to-market professionals, offers a comprehensive look into the agrifood industry’s current state and future trajectory. 

Some 9 out of 10 of the survey respondents are optimistic about AI, automation and advanced analytics to improve profitability and sustainability. More than half of respondents plan to increase investment in on-farm robotics or autonomous systems in the next 24 months in the field, 60.5% for harvesting and just over half for packing (51.3%).

In the upcoming year, 60% of agribusinesses are planning to increase their agtech budgets. Their main purchasing priorities: Precision agriculture tools (66% of respondents), farm management software (60%) and data consolidation (45%).

Food giants pledge to cut methane emissions from cows

Food companies representing more than $200 billion in annual sales have pledged to reduce methane from their dairy supply chains, the Environmental Defense Fund has announced.

The Bel Group, Danone, General Mills, Kraft Heinz, Lactalis USA, and Nestlé are founding members of the Dairy Methane Action Alliance.

“By joining this groundbreaking initiative, signatory companies commit to annually account for and publicly disclose methane emissions within their dairy supply chains, and to publish and implement a comprehensive methane action plan by the end of 2024,” according to EDF’s alliance website. 

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“As a leading dairy company, Danone is committed to reduce methane emissions from fresh milk 30% by 2030, and to elevate the role of dairy as a solution for health, nature and communities,” said Henri Bruxelles, Chief Sustainability and Strategic Business Development Officer at Danone

ASTA meeting in Orlando: Warmer than Chicago 

The American Seed Trade Association’s newly named Field Crop Seed Convention is making a smooth transition to its new location in Orlando this week, according to ASTA CEO Andy LaVigne. The convention, previously known as the ASTA CSS & Seed Expo, had been in Chicago since 1946.

“Attendance is good,” LaVigne said, but “it's not where we would like it to be.” Pre-registration was about 1,300, but he predicted that number would be about 1,400 when walk-ins are added. Last year, attendance was about 1,700.

“I think part of that's the ag economy,” LaVigne said, adding that the number of companies represented is up.

“We think everyone's very positive about the location,” he said. “And the opportunities that Orlando presents at this time of year versus Chicago is exciting.”

One advantage: On Wednesday afternoon in Orlando, the temperature was 62, the skies sunny. It was 36 degrees and cloudy in Chicago.

He said it. “Conservation without compensation is just a conversation.” Chad Ellis, CEO of the Texas Agricultural Land Trust and chairman of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, on the need for producers to see a return for investing in conservation practices. He was speaking during a panel discussion at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit in Charlotte, N.C.  

Noah Wicks, Jacqui Fatka and Steve Davies contributed to this report.