The food and agriculture community in the nation’s capital is reeling from the shock of the shootings at the congressional baseball practice. One of the most severely wounded victims was Matt Mika, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods who formerly worked for the North American Meat Institute and several House offices. 

The Michigan native is expected to spend several days in the intensive care unit at a Washington hospital after undergoing surgery yesterday for his wounds. The former college baseball and football player was helping coach the team.

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, witnessed the shootings and later did multiple media interviews. Although shaken by the event, Conaway cautioned against making political responses to the shootings or overreacting with new security measures. 

More on the story here. 

Scoop: USDA acting to allow Chinese chicken. The USDA will release a proposed rule by Friday to allow imports of cooked chicken from China, government and industry sources tell Agri-Pulse’s Bill Tomson.

The Commerce Department foreshadowed the action in an announcement last month on the initial results of a 100-Day action plan that arose from an April meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Another result from the plan is China’s agreement to lift its ban on U.S. beef. It’s long been suspected that China would not lift its ban on U.S. beef until the U.S. allowed in shipments of Chinese-origin chicken.

A USDA document viewed by Agri-Pulse says the Food Safety and Inspection Service “is proposing this action because the Agency has reviewed (China’s) laws, regulations, and poultry slaughter inspection system as implemented and has determined that the (Chinese) poultry slaughter inspection system is equivalent to the system that the United States has established.”

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Michael Dykes, president and CEO of IDFA, and House Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, flanked by Heather and Rich Draper of The Ice Cream Club Inc., one of the event sponsors.

Perdue convenes rural White House task force. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will host the inaugural meeting today of President Trump’s cross-government Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. 

The officials who will join Perdue include Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai,

The task force is supposed to identify existing barriers to economic prosperity in rural America and find ways that innovation, infrastructure and technology can provide sustainable improvements.  

Sweet respite. The International Dairy Foods Association put on its 35th annual Capitol Hill ice cream party yesterday, and it could not have been more welcome, given the shootings. 

Several lawmakers stopped by, including Virginia Foxx, chairwoman of House Education and the Workforce; Collin Peterson, ranking Democrat on House Agriculture; and Robert Aderholt, chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. 

House Ag kicking off listening sessions. The House Agriculture Committee is launching the first of a series of listening sessions it will hold around the country to gather input for the next farm bill. The first meeting will be June 24 in Gainesville, Fla. The remainder of the schedule hasn’t been announced.

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 Agri-Pulse President Sara Wyant chats with Collin Peterson while he enjoys his root beer float. 

Senate Ag puts focus on research. With an eye toward a new farm bill, the Senate Agriculture Committee today will hold a hearing today on the needs for food and agriculture research.  

The top Democrat on the committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, tells Agri-Pulse she specifically wants to know how the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is doing. Stabenow says she also wants to find out what additional research the federal government should be funding. 

The witnesses will include the foundation’s executive director, Sally Rockey. She’ll be asking senators to continue support for foundation and for agricultural research across the board. She also will be highlighting some of the foundation’s work since it first started hiring staff in 2015. 

We previewed Rockey’s remarks on this week’s Open Mic. Listen here for more. 

Stabenow concerned about USDA delay. Stabenow says the delay in filling top positions at USDA could make it harder to write the next farm bill. Perdue said six potential nominees, including a deputy secretary, won’t be confirmed before at least September. “The secretary … needs a team around him,” Stabenow said.

Agri-Pulse reported most of the potential nominees last month. Sources say that at least part of the delay stems is due to the challenge that Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey has in separating his farming interests. As we first reported in early May, Northey is expected to be nominated to be under secretary for farm programs. 

Tester emerges as crop insurance champion. Supporters of crop insurance have to be pleased to hear Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., vigorously defending the crop insurance program. 

Tester, an organic farmer who often differs with agribusiness groups on biotechnology and other issues, sharply challenged Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at a Tuesday hearing for saying that crop insurance should be viewed and operated along the same lines as property and casualty insurance. As we reported yesterday, Perdue didn’t back off the comparison. 

Tester tells Agri-Pulse that while Perdue understands how critical crop insurance is to farmers he seems to be leaving himself room to pivot on the issue. He’s in a position to both support an increase in spending but still “have some cover” if the program gets cut, Tester said. “He’s a good politician.”

Sugar deal released. The Commerce Department is putting out for public comment the details of a draft agreement with Mexico on sugar trade. The deal generally follows the framework announced last week. But one key change shrinks the period the tariff rate quota could be increased.

Ethanol bill may sputter in Senate. A bill to remove the vapor cap that limits the summer use of E15 faces an uncertain future in the Senate. The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, John Barrasso, said yesterday that he has promised a vote on the measure to the bill’s chief sponsor, Deb Fischer, R-Neb., but he did not offer a timeline. 

Biofuel industry sources tell Agri-Pulse that the committee is likely to act before the August recess, but Barrasso is opposed to the bill and the panel’s top Democrat, Tom Carper of Delaware, also has misgivings. 

Carper told reporters that he sensed a “willingness” on the committee “to hold a hearing, not an eagerness to move toward a markup.”

Ethanol interests are working hard to rally all of their supporters – including several retailers who are engaging in a new marketing campaign - and continue to advance the measure. 

EPA sued for delaying pesticide requirements. A new lawsuit challenges EPA’s decision to extend the compliance deadline for new requirements on certified pesticide applicators.

The CPA rule, which has been delayed until May 2018, “ensures those who handle the most dangerous pesticides are properly trained and certified before they apply them,” say the groups who filed the lawsuit in federal court in California. 

Those groups, which include the United Farm Workers and Pesticide Action Network North America, say the rule includes “common-sense protections,” such as requiring pesticide applicators to be at least 18 years old.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture was among those who sought the delay. NASDA argues that states implementing the rule were not yet ready to implement it.

He said it. “I’ve been with this issue probably longer than anyone at this table has with the whole ethanol issue. I remember when Al Gore invented it all. I’m serious about that, he did with the environment and all of that.” - Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., speaking at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the ethanol vapor waiver. 

Steve Davies contributed to this report. 

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