The House Agriculture Committee puts a focus this week on China and the potential threat it poses to U.S. agriculture, while Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack heads back to Capitol Hill to defend his spending priorities and policy implementation. 

Ahead of his committee appearance on Thursday, Vilsack will be a feature speaker Monday at the annual Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit at the National Press Club in Washington. The summit, which will be available online and is titled “Revitalizing Rural Revenues,” also will include appearances by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and the committee’s top Republican, John Boozman, R-Ark. 

Several top industry executives in sustainable aviation fuel and other sectors also will speak or participate in panel discussions, including Gene Gebolys, CEO of World Energy LLC; Patrick Gruber, CEO of Gevo Inc.; Jeff Simmons, president and CEO of Elanco Animal Health Inc.; and Jackie Applegate, president of Bayer Crop Science.

 “We are honored to host so many excellent speakers who represent diverse interests across American agriculture,” said Agri-Pulse Editor and Founder Sara Wyant. “From local food systems to export markets and new ways to turn waste products into new revenue streams, we are covering a multitude of opportunities across Rural America.”

The House Ag hearing on Wednesday is titled “The Danger China Poses to American Agriculture” and follows passage of a spending package that includes provisions aimed at curbing Chinese investment in U.S. farmland and agribusiness interests, an issue that has been pervasive on social media and cable news channels for more than a year. 

“It’s no secret that China poses significant threats to our way of life; agriculture is no exception,” House Ag Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., said in a statement to Agri-Pulse. “We’ve seen China steal our intellectual property, hack our cyber infrastructure, and buy up American farmland. We will look to every available legislative vehicle, including the farm bill, to stop China in its tracks and strengthen our food and national security.”

The witnesses will include Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who chairs the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party; the committee’s top Democrat, Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi; South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem; and Kip Tom, who served as ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture during the Trump administration. 

The China issue is sensitive for agriculture interests, since it's the No. 1 export market for U.S. farmers. China accounted for 19% of total U.S. ag exports in fiscal 2023, ahead of Canada and Mexico who each bought less than 16% of U.S. exports. 

But the China committee in December issued a report that called for raising tariffs on Chinese exports and taking steps to protect U.S. farmers from the Chinese retaliation that could be expected to follow, and former President Donald Trump has talked of imposing tariffs of up to 60% on China should he win another term.

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Noem recently signed a bill that bars entities in China, Russia and four other countries from owning South Dakota farmland. Noem said in signing the bill that China was “aggressively” trying to purchase land near military bases and that the bill would ensure that “evil countries who hate America are not purchasing our farmland.” 

Critics of Chinese land investments have frequently cited a Chinese milling company’s 2022 purchase of land near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. Foreign investors owned or leased 43.4 million acres, or about 3.4% of the nation’s total farm, ranch and forest land in 2022, according to the USDA’s most recent data. Chinese entities accounted for less than 1% of the foreign-owned land. 

Vilsack, who testified before the House and Senate Ag committees in February, appears Thursday before the House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee, where he could tangle again with the panel’s chairman, Andy Harris, R-Md. 

At a March 2023 hearing, Harris and Vilsack clashed sharply over USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation spending authority. During the unusually testy exchange, Harris demanded Vilsack stop interrupting him unless he was specifically asked a question. Harris suggested Congress had primacy over the executive branch by virtue of the order in which they are addressed in the Constitution. 

Harris went on to draft a FY24 spending bill that would have slashed many USDA’s budget, but the measure ultimately failed to pass the GOP-controlled House last September

Also this week, Congress faces a Friday deadline for keeping a large portion of the government from shutting down. Negotiations on the last six of 12 appropriations bills — Defense, Financial Services and General Government, Homeland Security, Labor-HHS, Legislative Branch, and State and Foreign Operations are continuing, with lawmakers expected to release another stopgap spending bill ahead of its two-week Easter recess.

House Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters Thursday that the FY24 appropriations process was “very close to being wound down.”

Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):

Monday, March 18

Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit, National Press Club.

11 a.m. — House Financial Services subcommittee field hearing, “Victims of Regulatory Overreach: How the SEC’s Climate Disclosure Rule Will Harm Americans,” Lebanon, Tennessee.

Tuesday, March 19

Wednesday, March 20

10 a.m. — House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, 2362B Rayburn.

10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, “Examining PFAS as Hazardous Substances,” 406 Dirksen.

11:30 a.m. — House Agriculture Committee hearing, “The Danger China Poses to American Agriculture,” 1300 Longworth.

Thursday, March 21

8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

10 a.m. — House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 2362A Rayburn.

11 a.m. — Senate Finance Committee hearing with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, 215 Dirksen.

2:30 p.m. — House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Yellen and Budget Director Shalanda Young, 2359 Rayburn.

Friday, March 22 

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