The partisan jockeying on the farm bill continues. House Ag Democrats have rescheduled a meeting with Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow for Wednesday. The meeting was postponed from last week when the House canceled votes. 

Meanwhile, Republicans on House Ag are expected to release key details about the farm bill’s commodity title later this week. Groups that are traditionally critical of farm programs are already attacking the plan to raise Price Loss Coverage reference prices.

The section-by-section summary released Friday says the reference prices will be increased by 10% to 20% depending on the commodity. Commodity groups were briefed last week on the individual rates, but those numbers haven’t been released.

“The proposed changes to reference prices would cause inflationary market distortions, and most of the benefits would flow to financially secure businesses,” David Ditch of The Heritage Foundation says in one of several statements by groups critical of the GOP plan. “With the national debt now roughly $265,000 for every household in the country, Congress should be looking for ways to save tax dollars rather than making handouts more generous,” 

Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group, which has long maintained a database of farm program payments, says that raising reference prices “will benefit the largest, most successful farmers growing a handful of crops.”

House Ag Republicans argue that the increases are needed to bring the reference prices up to date and that they are being adjusted based on relative input costs. PLC triggers payments to farmers for years in which the average market price for a commodity is below the reference price.

Senators want mandatory conservation funding in farm bill

Twenty-six Senate Democrats are calling on the Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee to provide full mandatory funding for farm bill conservation programs, as well as $1.2 billion for Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation operations.

The lawmakers, led by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Chris Coons, D-Del., say the additional funding would help bolster staffing and resources at NRCS to support the delivery of a number of conservation programs. The practices utilized in these programs, they say, are "some of the most important options currently available for large-scale emissions reductions and also removal and storage of carbon dioxide at scale."

"It is critical that NRCS offices are well-staffed to best serve our country’s producers and foresters so that we may better mitigate and adapt to climate change,” they write.

Take note: Eighty-four agricultural and environmental groups sent a letter with the same funding requests in March. Among them were the National Association of Conservation Districts, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Farmers Union, USA Rice, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Soil and Water Conservation Society.

FERC adopts new transmission rule

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted Monday to adopt a new rule requiring providers of electrical transmission lines to conduct long-term planning to meet future power needs.

The 2-1 vote, with the two Democratic commissioners in favor and the lone Republican opposed, “requires transmission operators to conduct and periodically update long-term transmission planning over a 20-year time horizon [and] provides for cost-effective expansion of transmission that is being replaced, when needed, known as ‘right-sizing’ transmission facilities,” FERC said

Democrats on Capitol Hill and a wide range of conservation groups applauded the action; Republicans weren’t happy with it. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said the rule “will force customers – often in rural states – to pay for new transmission lines even when those lines don’t provide any meaningful benefit to them.”

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FERC said in a press release the rule “expressly provides for the states’ pivotal role throughout the process of planning, selecting, and determining how to pay for transmission lines.” And Maryland State Delegate Lorig Charkoudian, a member of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, said the new rule “closes [the] transmission planning gap and will help to meet the energy needs of our constituents more effectively, affordably, and sustainably.” 

Two ex-ChemChina execs being probed by anti-corruption agency

Two former ChemChina executives are under investigation by China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the top anti-corruption body in the country.

Published reports quoted the CCDI as saying Ren Jianxin, who left the China National Chemical Corporation in 2018, was suspected of "serious violations of discipline and law."    

In addition, Jianxin’s former assistant, Yang Xingqiang, who was general manager of ChemChina, is also under investigation.

ChemChina bought Syngenta in 2018 for $43 billion. Syngenta recently backed out of a planned initial public offering on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

Study: Organic farming methods create more adaptations in plant genetics

Organic farming can lead to greater adaptations and resiliency in plants over conventional methods, according to a recent University of Bonn study.

Over the last 23 years, researchers carried out a long-term study that analyzed the genetic makeup of barley in two neighboring fields with different farming methods. The field with organic farming methods, including no pesticides and fertilizing soil with manure from stables, became more genetically different than the conventional crop.

Researchers found in genetic tests that the organically farmed barley developed gene variants that were less sensitive to a lack of water or nutrient deficits. Environmental conditions tend to fluctuate more in organic farming, which could cause greater genetic variety and allow plants to better adapt to climate change and other changes in conditions, according to the study published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development.

Take note: The organic industry will be in Washington and on the Hill this week for the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Week. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is scheduled to address stakeholders on Wednesday and discuss USDA plans to ensure the organic marketplace can grow and how organics are included in climate-smart initiatives.