WASHINGTON, March 19, 2017 -- President Trumps’ pick for agriculture secretary, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, and Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will each get long-awaited confirmation hearings in the Senate this week.

Perdue’s hearing is set for Thursday before the Senate Agriculture Committee. Gorsuch’s hearing starts Monday in Senate Judiciary and is expected to run several days.

Also on Monday, just ahead of National Agriculture Day, the four leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture committees will headline an all-day summit on the farm bill sponsored by Agri-Pulse Communications at the National Press Club.

“This is a great opportunity to learn about all aspects of writing a new farm bill from speakers who have been at the front lines of developing past farm bills and those who will be responsible for writing the next one,” said Agri-Pulse Editor Sara Wyant.

The Farm Bill Summit, “Harvesting Farm Bill Perspectives,” will include presentations and panels looking at the spending and baseline challenges facing Congress as well as in-depth discussion of risk management, conservation and nutrition issues. Another panel will focus on how the bill could help attract the next generation of producers.

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and his committee’s ranking member, Collin Peterson, D-Minn., will speak in the afternoon along with Senate Agriculture’s chairman, Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are eager to have Perdue in place at USDA to act as an advocate for the agriculture sector on trade and other issues. “We need to move on this,” Roberts said last week.

Roberts brushed off a recent New York Times story that raised a series of ethics allegations that dated back to Perdue’s years as governor. “For the most part, a lot of these allegations is the same old stuff he got when he was governor,” Roberts said.

While most Democrats consider Gorsuch too conservative, he appears increasingly likely to win confirmation, which will require getting at least 60 votes in the Senate. No public opposition has developed to Perdue’s nomination.

Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general under President Obama, will introduce Gorsuch along with both senators from his home state of Colorado, Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Michael Bennet.

Gorsuch’s confirmation would return the Supreme Court to the ideological balance that existed before Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016. Grassley has said that he expects Gorsuch to make a strong impression. “He’s a mainstream judge. He’s displayed independence. … He is well-qualified and respected,” Grassley said when announcing the hearings.

Gorsuch, a member of the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is known for arguing that courts have given federal agencies excessive leeway in interpreting laws. Ellen Steen, general counsel for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said Gorsuch’s confirmation “should bode well for our efforts to restore some accountability and restraint on federal agencies.”

On Wednesday, Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, will get his hearing by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Acosta, a Florida law school dean, is largely unknown to agricultural employers, but they will be counting on him to make it easier for farms and processors to use the H-2A and H-2B guest worker visa programs.

The House Agriculture Committee this week will continue its series of farm bill hearings. One of the three hearings will focus on what is expected to be one of the highest priorities for the panel, overhauling dairy policy. Producers argue that the Margin Protection Program created by the 2014 farm bill was insufficient.

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The National Milk Producers Federation earlier this month proposed a series of changes to the MPP to ensure dairy producers have a better shot at getting payments under the plan, which includes changing the way the cost of feed is calculated.

Producers get payments under the program when the margin between milk prices and feed costs is smaller than the covered margin. Producers say the formula understates feed costs because of a 10-percent cut that Congress made before the 2014 farm bill was enacted.

The NMPF plan also would reduce premiums for buy-up coverage. Only 7 percent of farms enrolled in the program have elected to purchase coverage above the $4 margin level.

Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, March 20

8 a.m. – 5 p.m. - Agri-Pulse Farm Bill Summit, “Harvesting Farm Bill Perspectives,” National Press Club.

5:30-7:30 - Agri-Pulse Customer Appreciation Reception, National Press Club

Tuesday, March 21

National Agriculture Day.

8:30 a.m. - Ag Day panel discussion, “SMART Farming: Producing Sustainable, Abundant Food for Life,” National Press Club.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on ways to improve and expand infrastructure important to federal lands, recreation, water, and resources, 366 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on nutrition distribution programs under the farm bill, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Council for Agricultural Science and Technology seminar, “The Need for Agricultural Innovation to Sustainably Feed the World by 2050: Plant Breeding and Genetics,” 328A Russell. More times and locations available here.

2 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing to gather livestock producer perspectives on the farm bill.

4:30 – 6:00 p.m. – Taste of Ag Reception, Capitol Visitor Center

Wednesday, March 22

The American Coalition for Ethanol holds its 9th annual DC Fly-In, through Thursday. 

9 a.m. - Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holds confirmation hearing for Alex Acosta to be Secretary of Labor, 430 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on dairy policy, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on legislation that would provide states with flexibility in meeting ground-level ozone standards, 2123 Rayburn.

10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology Seminar, “The Need for Agricultural Innovation to Sustainably Feed the World by 2050: Plant Breeding and Genetics.”

Thursday, March 23

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

10 a.m. - House Small Business subcommittee hearing on the future of small family farms, 2360 Rayburn.

Senate Agriculture Committee confirmation hearing for Sonny Perdue to be Agriculture Secretary. 325 Russell. Time to be determined.

Friday, March 24

9 a.m. - USDA releases the monthly Food Price Outlook.


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