Lawmakers are going to be leaving a lot of money on the table – nearly $1.8 billion – if they can’t agree on putting Inflation Reduction Act conservation funding into a new farm bill. That amount of money could permanently increase conservation program funding by 30%, according to an analysis by the GOP staff of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Under the budget rules used to pass the IRA, the $13 billion in conservation funding now available must be spent by 2031. But if that funding is brought into the farm bill, the rules for that legislation would allow the money to be reallocated in a way that permanently increases the funding baseline for conservation programs beyond 2031.

Keep in mind: There’s an ongoing partisan dispute over the IRA funding, but it’s not necessarily about moving the money into the farm bill. Republicans on the Senate Ag Committee also want to remove IRA restrictions that limit the funding to climate-related practices. Republicans on the House Ag Committee want to move some of the IRA funding out of conservation programs entirely and into other titles of the farm bill. Democrats have so far opposed both ideas.

Thompson: ‘Seeing some daylight’ with Ag Democrats

Prospects for passing a farm bill look increasingly dim because of the ongoing disputes over funding and other issues. But House Ag Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., insisted in an interview with Agri-Pulse Wednesday that it’s still possible to move a bill through his committee as soon as April.

Thompson suggested he would have some Democratic support for the legislation, even though he said it will rely on funding sources, including reallocation of the IRA money, that Democrats have strongly opposed. “We've been working on that … We're seeing some daylight,” he said in reference to getting Democratic support.

But, but, but: A spokesperson for Ag Committee Democrats says that getting Democratic support is “wishful thinking” unless he gives up “draconian cuts to SNAP, conservation, and energy programs that enjoy sustained Democratic support.”

Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern described his Democratic colleagues as “pretty united.”

By the way: The committee has scheduled a hearing for next Wednesday on the hot topic of China and U.S. agriculture. The hearing’s title: “The Danger China Poses to American Agriculture.”

The witnesses will include South Dakota Gov Kristi Noem; Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who chairs the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party; and Kip Tom, who served as ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture during the Trump administration. Noem recently signed a bill that bars entities in China and five other countries from owning South Dakota farmland.

Anti-hunger coalition urges Congress to pass farm bill

A coalition of anti-hunger and ag organizations is calling on Congress to pass a farm bill, which would help the 41.2 million people who rely on SNAP in the U.S. and also benefit hungry people overseas through international food aid programs.

Representatives of anti-hunger groups who spoke at an event on Capitol Hill on Wednesday also said it’s essential for Congress to allow Puerto Rico to transition to SNAP because the current program, which relies on a block grant, doesn’t cover current needs. “Puerto Ricans receive 35% less funds without access to SNAP,” said Abigail Medina Betancourt of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies. “But the cost of food keeps increasing.”

Other groups represented at the event included Bread for the World, the Alliance to End Hunger, the Fair Food Network, Farm Journal Foundation, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Zero Food Waste Coalition.

China stresses yield increases, rural revitalization in latest ag policy document

China is seeking increased crop yields and improvements in rural areas, according to its latest ag policy document, as analyzed by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.

The Chinese document sets policy guidelines for agriculture and rural development for the year and says the government “will adequately increase the minimum purchase price of wheat and reasonably determine the minimum purchase price of rice. Additionally, the government will continue to implement the subsidies for farmland fertility preservation, corn and soybean producer subsidies, and rice-related subsidies.”

The policy paper also “suggests expanding the scope of full production cost insurance and income insurance to cover all three major grain crops (wheat, rice, and corn) and gradually expanding insurance coverage for soybean production,” FAS says.

Chinese leadership wants to see comprehensive revitalization in rural areas, which means “more support and resources will be allocated to construction and services in rural areas, upgrading rural industries, and improving rural governance,” FAS says.

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Do politics drive inflation views?

Americans’ views on food inflation vary according to their political affiliation and what news channels they watch, according to Purdue University’s latest monthly survey of consumers.

Some 71% of Republicans expect food prices to rise this year versus 56% of Democrats. Similarly, 67% of those consumers who trust Fox News as a source of information predict food costs will be higher this year, versus 53% of those who trust CNN.

“It seems our political leanings color our perceptions of the food economy,” says Purdue economist Joseph Balagtas.

The average predicted increase in food prices this year, according to the survey, is 3.7%.

For the record: USDA’s Economic Research Service forecasts grocery prices will rise 1.6% this year, down from 5% in 2023 and 11.4% in 2022. The cost of eating at home was unchanged in February.

Checking in on Texas: 1,600 donations for wildfire relief 

More than $800,000 has so far been donated to Texas’ Agricultural Relief Fund to help producers rebuild after the wildfires. The fund, which provides money to help producers rebuild fences, purchase livestock feed and repair damaged equipment in the wake of natural disasters, received more than 1,600 individual donations, says Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller.

They said it. “Diminishing access to foreign agricultural markets for U.S. industries creates significant economic headwinds and jeopardizes the livelihoods of more than one million American workers, farmers, and ranchers, as well as millions more U.S. jobs throughout the export supply chain.” – 22 Republican senators in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The letter asks Tai and Vilsack what “specific actions” the Biden administration plans to take this year to “increase U.S. agricultural exports.”