Lawmakers are preparing today to break for the Memorial Day recess and they won’t be back in Washington until the first week in June.

Thune unveils new farm bill proposals. South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune has been steadily offering some options for consideration in the next farm bill. Today, ahead of the congressional break, he will unveil a new plan to both simplify the Agriculture Risk Coverage-County (ARC-CO) payment process for multi-county farms and require a mandatory crop acreage base reallocation.

There’s no Congressional Budget Office score yet, but Thune’s office expects the proposals to save money.

“By correctly calculating ARC-CO payments as Congress intended them to be and reallocating base acres using the most recent planting history, we can both save taxpayers money and more accurately target commodity assistance to those who need it the most,” Thune said. 

Under Thune’s bill, a farm’s new base acreage would be those acres that were planted or considered planted in 2014 to 2017.

His proposals give farm organizations key starting points as they build their own respective positions on changes to ARC-CO. Click here for additional details on Thune’s latest rollout.

Perdue treads lightly on Trump budget. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is passing up the chance to defend many of the most controversial proposals in President Trump’s budget. 

During his first hearing before congressional appropriators yesterday, Perdue affirmed the importance of crop insurance, saying USDA’s job was to provide advice to Congress. And he said it was “irrefutable” that Trump’s proposal to kill the Food for Peace program contradicted his pledge to “buy American.” 

He said that concerns about eliminating two export assistance programs were “legitimate.” And he also said he still needed to review the proposed 5.5 percent cut in USDA’s workforce.

USDA lawyers not budging on cotton. Perdue made clear to the appropriators, as he did to the House Agriculture Committee last week, that he’s unlikely to make cottonseed eligible for the farm bill’s Price Loss Coverage program.

Perdue told Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., that USDA’s general counsel has not budged from its position that the secretary lacks the legal authority to declare cottonseed as an “other oilseed” eligible for PLC. Perdue said there would be budgetary problems as well with the request. 

Perdue is back on Capitol Hill today to testify before the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee about the Forest Service budget. He also will be meeting with a small group of leaders and members of the Organic Trade Association.

USDA’s chief economist, Rob Johansson, will be a lead witness at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the farm economy. The hearing will help lay the groundwork for maintaining spending on commodity programs and crop insurance in the next farm bill. 

House passes relief for pesticide applicators. Republicans are making another attempt to ease permit requirements for pesticide usage. 

The House voted 256-165 yesterday to pass the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, which would reverse a 2009 appellate court ruling that forced the EPA to require pesticide applicators to get permits to spray in or near “navigable waters” as defined in the Clean Water Act.

Similar efforts to reverse the court decision have died in the Senate, so the legislation still faces a big hurdle.

USTR says U.S.-Mexico talks on sugar “very encouraging.” There has not been much good news coming out of talks lately between the U.S. and Mexico over a new agreement on sugar trade, but U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer says negotiations are actually “very encouraging.”

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced on May 1 that talks with Mexico were at an impasse. He set a deadline of June 5, when the U.S. would begin imposing massive duties on Mexican sugar. Ross met last week with Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, but no breakthroughs were announced.

The U.S. is demanding that Mexico agree to a new suspension agreement that limits the amount of Mexican sugar exports in return for U.S. willingness not to impose antidumping and countervailing duties. The U.S. wants Mexico to commit to sending more raw sugar and less refined product, which doesn’t need to be processed in U.S. mills.

Read it: The National Pork Producers Council is releasing a 37-page report today detailing NAFTA’s benefit to agriculture, state by state. Read it here. 

Organic sees banner year. Sales of organic food hit a record $43 billion, an increase of $3.3 billion, or more than 8 percent, from 2015, according to the Organic Trade Association. By comparison, overall food sales rose by less than 1 percent last year. 

The increase in organic market share was led by sales of $15.6 billion in organic produce. But the organic protein sector also shot up 17 percent, the category’s biggest year-over-year gain ever observed.

Organic food now accounts for 5.3 percent of total food sales in this country.

Baseball star touts organic farming, food. Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth, who is getting into organic agriculture with an eye toward a post-baseball career, was a featured speaker yesterday at OTA’s annual Washington conference. 

Werth already has 500 tillable acres in Illinois and says he wants to double that. He says the farm matches his philosophy on food and diet.

He told the OTA meeting that the Nationals are one of the few teams in Major League Baseball that have gone organic in its training room. Other teams, he says, are “still very far behind the curve.”

Oops! USDA’s Farm Service Agency is “clarifying” a December Federal Register notice announcing the availability of funding to help cover certification costs for farmers and ranchers transitioning to organic production.

It turns out that there is no such funding because, as a revised Federal Register notice points out, “no transitional certification programs are currently established” under the Organic Foods Production Act. “Accordingly, “this notice clarifies that cost-sharing assistance will not be available for transitional certification.”

International animal welfare considered. The World Organization for Animal Health, also known as OIE, has released a strategy for developing new “science-based,” international standards for animal welfare. 

The strategy says the new standards would take into account regional perspectives. The first step in the strategy is to establish a forum that will bring together the agriculture and food sector, researchers and animal welfare advocates to consider what issues need to be addressed. 

He said it. “A meal that’s healthy in some regards is not nutritious at all if it’s thrown in the trash can.” - Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, defending changes to school nutrition standards.

Bill Tomson, Spencer Chase and Daniel Enoch contributed to this report. This article has been updated to correct the location of Werth's farm.

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