The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., this week reiterated his plan to move a farm bill before Memorial Day. But there’s little sign that Thompson has made any progress with Democrats on the committee, and lawmakers won’t be in session next week.

The top Democrat on the committee, David Scott of Georgia, told Agri-Pulse on Wednesday, “We continue to negotiate. We want a bipartisan farm bill. And there's no way that we're going to cut SNAP.” He confirmed that he views restricting updates to the Thrifty Food Plan as cutting SNAP. TFP is a model USDA uses to gauge changes in the cost of food.

Texas Rep. Jasmine Crockett told Agri-Pulse her Democratic colleagues have been discussing a possible counteroffer to Thompson. But she said, “I don't know if our counter will be taken in good faith.”

Keep in mind: Thompson argues that restricting TFP updates isn’t cutting benefits. The restrictions could, however, reduce future increases in benefits.

Take note: Scott also reiterated the Democratic position that Thompson needs to get the House leadership to find fresh funding for the farm bill, instead of forcing the committee to move money around within the legislation. “Stop trying to rob Peter to pay Paul. We can't do that,” Scott said.

Tai: Trade deals ‘great for ag’ but hurt workers

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai made it clear in stark terms Wednesday why the Biden administration is refusing to seek any new, tariff-lowering free-trade agreements: Such deals are viewed as good for farmers, but bad for American workers.

During a Senate Finance Committee hearing, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., pressed Tai to list any free trade agreements that were currently being negotiated. She said the “short answer, to be responsive to you, is no.”

Then she said this: “We're not doing the big comprehensive agreements that are really great for ag and terrible for our industries.”

She insisted the administration is working to address existing trade barriers on a direct, country-by-country basis. “We are scoring wins for them (farmers) without having to do the long negotiations in a free trade agreement.”

Keep in mind: Tai’s view is in line with the view of former President Trump’s USTR, Bob Lighthizer, when it comes to past trade agreements.

Take note: Tai was also pressed during the hearing on China’s failure to meet its commitments to buy U.S. farm exports under the 2020 Phase One trade agreement.

Read our report on that issue here. 

Tai launches probe into Chinese shipbuilding industry

Tai has begun an investigation into the “acts, policies, and practices” of China in “targeting the maritime, logistics, and shipbuilding sectors for dominance.” USTR announced the Section 301 investigation after reviewing a petition from five unions representing a broad range of workers – boilermakers, ship builders, machinists, electrical workers, steelworkers, and others.

The petition asserts that “the biggest obstacle” to the U.S. industry’s “recovery is the unfair trade practices of the world’s largest shipbuilding nation: China.”

By the way: Tai told senators USTR will release “very, very soon” a report on the impact of the Section 301 tariffs that Trump imposed on China in 2018.

Bayer steps up public battle against lawsuits

Bayer is doubling down in its efforts to persuade American consumers and lawmakers that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is safe to use.

In an “open letter” that ran as an advertisement in five newspapers around the country, the company criticizes the “litigation industry” that has spent millions of dollars – Bayer put the number at $100 million – “in expansive marketing and TV ads” to gather plaintiffs for Roundup lawsuits.

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The company’s track record in recent litigation has been mixed. For example, despite achieving a significant reduction in damages in a Missouri case recently, Bayer was still left with a $611 million judgment against it.

The letter, which ran in POLITICO and The Washington Post, Des Moines Register, St. Louis Post Dispatch and Jefferson City News Tribune, warns of the threat to U.S. agriculture if glyphosate and other pesticides cannot be used.

Looking ahead: Bayer says it plans to be “more vocal in the media and in our overall communication to clearly articulate the impact – current and potential – of the litigation industry’s attacks and what it means for our company and the future of American agriculture.”

Rail regulators: UP cutting embargos

The Union Pacific has made a major turnaround on its once-heavy use of embargoes, temporary restrictions aimed at preventing freight congestion by limiting the movement of goods. But the company still issued more of them last year than all of other Class I railroads combined, according to the Surface Transportation Board.

In a decision this week, all five members of the board said Union Pacific's use of embargoes sharply fell from 1,081 in 2022 to 181 in 2023 amid changes to several of the company's policies. But the regulators concluded that they expect the company to “continue to work to reduce and minimize the use of congestion embargoes going forward."

"The STB's ruling is a positive step forward and our service performance indicators have improved significantly over the past year,” Union Pacific spokeswoman Kristen South tells Agri-Pulse. "As a common carrier, embargoes are an important tool to maintain fluidity for all customers.”

But, but, but: STB members did not mince words when talking about their months-long back and forth with the company over embargo-related information in 2022 and 2023. "Rarely has a rail carrier engaged in such delay and obfuscation in response to the Board’s requests for information,” they wrote.

She said it. “We all have our lines in the sand. For Democrats that will always end up being SNAP benefits.” – Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas.

Noah Wicks, Rebekah Alvey and Steve Davies contributed to this report.