Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is set to announce a proposal today to use the next farm bill to boost crop insurance coverage. The FARMER Act, which Hoeven will announce at a news conference with GOP colleagues on the Senate Ag Committee, would increase premium subsidies for 80% and 85% coverage levels.

Increasing premium subsidies “will shrink producer deductibles and reduce the need for ad hoc disaster assistance in the future,” according to Hoeven’s staff. Importantly, farmers could get the higher coverage and still sign up the same acreage for either the Price Loss Coverage or Agriculture Risk Coverage programs.

Keep in mind: A crop insurance debate has been simmering behind the scenes for some time. Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has proposed to increase subsidies for buy-up policies along the lines of the STAX insurance product now available only to cotton growers. STAX allows farmers to insure 75% to 90% of their county’s expected revenue, with the government picking up 80% of the premium. Subsidies on crop insurance policies generally average about 62%.

The catch is that farmers who sign up for STAX can’t enroll the same commodity base acreage in the PLC and ARC programs that same year.

Some critics of her proposal argue that farmers need access to both PLC and area revenue insurance.

Farm groups make push for stalled tax bill

A broad collection of farm groups is urging the Senate to take up a House-passed, bipartisan tax bill that has bogged down in the Senate because of Republican opposition. The legislation would restore 100% bonus depreciation, increase limits on the Section 179 expensing allowance, and boost the child tax credit.

“Producers and businesses throughout the food and agriculture industry are facing tax increases today and cannot wait a year or more for relief,” the ag groups say in letter to Senate leaders. “We ask that you take up this important legislation immediately and pass it through the Senate to provide much needed assistance to America’s farmers, ranchers, growers, landowners, and all workers in the food and agriculture supply chain.”

Many Republicans want to punt tax issues to the next Congress, when key provisions of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expire, and the GOP could be in control of the Senate.

The organizations that signed the letter include the American Farm Bureau Federation, Western Growers, and groups representing producers of corn, cotton, cattle, rice, soybeans, almonds and a wide range of other commodities.

Environmental groups sue Fish and Wildlife Service over gray wolf 

The Fish and Wildlife Service is being sued over its decision not to list gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains as endangered.

Four conservation and animal protection groups allege the denial of their petition leaves the species vulnerable to state-run hunting programs.

The service’s “own scientists predict that rampant wolf killing under state laws could reduce the region’s wolf population from an estimated 2,534 wolves to as few as 667,” the groups say in a news release. Those groups are the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, and Sierra Club.

Biden administration officials talk up work on competition

The Biden administration isn’t easing up on its efforts to promote more competition among U.S. businesses, officials including Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said at the 2024 “Enforcers Summit” hosted by the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission Monday.

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Among the tools mentioned to address anticompetitive behavior was the Packers & Stockyards Act, which DOJ Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Jonathan Kanter called “really important” to protect farmers.

Vilsack said two P&S settlements involving Koch Foods and the merger between Wayne Farms and Sanderson Farms “sent a very strong message, and I think it will obviously result in a much better market opportunity for farmers.”

Under those settlements, Koch agreed not to charge “exit fees” to farmers who change processors. And as part of allowing Wayne and Sanderson to merge, they had to agree not to use the tournament system of compensating poultry growers.

“I think as we see more informed farmers, as we see more informed investors, as we see more informed folks in export or are dealing with railroads, I think we're going to see a groundswell of continued support for the actions that we've talked about here this morning,” Vilsack said.

Work on swine traceability standards underway, pork group says

USDA and the National Pork Producers Council are crafting new traceability standards for pork products, according to former NPPC president Scott Hays.

Hays, the executive director for the Missouri Pork Association, said during a press call Monday that work on a new traceability program requiring producers to keep records of pig movements is underway. He stressed that the information will not be public, but instead will be used to help pin down the sources of foreign animal disease outbreaks.

NPPC President Lori Stevermer said international pork trading partners expect the United States to have a traceability plan in place to gauge when it can safely resume exporting if it were ever to face an outbreak of an animal disease.

He said it: “I was just informed that [during] my first remarks my microphone was turned off. … It's okay. It reminds me when I was first elected to the [Chicago] City Council 49 years ago, and Mayor [Richard] Daley didn't like what I was saying, he would cut off my microphone. Now that I'm ending my career, I’m going back.” – Martin Oberman, chairman of the Surface Transportation Board, at the annual Enforcers Summit

Philip Brasher and Noah Wicks contributed to this report.