Weekly Food and Agriculture Update – 11.28

November 28, 2023

Contents

  • What We’re Watching
  • Notable News
  • This Week’s Legislation
  • This Week’s Hearings
  • Contact the Team

What We’re Watching

Congress 

Appropriations

Congress reconvenes this week after their recess period for the Thanksgiving holiday. To recap, a Continuing Resolution (CR) has been passed that extends funding through January 19 for appropriations pertaining to agriculture; energy and water; military construction and Veterans Affairs; and Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, the rest of the appropriations bills are set to expire on February 2, 2024. As a reminder, the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 included a provision to reduce both defense and nondefense funding levels by 1 percent if appropriations bills are not enacted by January 1, 2024. The CR also includes an extension of the 2018 Farm Bill through 2024 and allocates $177 million for the 21 orphan programs, which are programs without mandatory baseline that would cease without Congressional action. Both House and Senate Agriculture Committee leadership have been vocal about wanting to make sure a bill is completed in the beginning of 2024.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has publicly opposed another CR, putting pressure on the House and Senate to pass all 12 appropriations bills by the deadlines. On the Senate side, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to the Senate outlining priorities for the remainder of the year. Aside from conferencing with the House on the Agriculture, Energy and Water, MilCon-VA, and Transportation-HUD before the January 19 deadline, other priorities include the President’s national security supplemental package which includes aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and confirmation of nominees.

An updated Congressional calendar has been released. Please note votes are no longer expected in the House on Thursday, February 8, 2024 or Thursday, March 14, 2024 in order to accommodate for the Republican and Democratic Issues Conferences. Last votes for those weeks are now expected in the morning of Wednesday, February 7, 2024 and in the morning of Wednesday, March 13, 2024.

Senate Confirmation Hearing for USDA

The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a confirmation hearing this Thursday for Basil Gooden to become the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development at USDA. Basil Gooden formerly served as the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry in Virginia and is currently serving as the Virginia State Director for Rural Development at USDA.  The nomination comes as Xochitl Torres Small, who was the former Under Secretary of Rural Development, was confirmed to be the USDA Deputy Secretary. 

Administration

US Loses USMCA Dispute with Canada

The US recently lost a trade dispute with Canada over the country’s operation of a tariff rate quota for dairy imports as noted in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Initially, the US won a dispute against Canada after verifying claims that Canada was lowering dairy import quotas, and then filed another dispute claiming that Canada continued to restrict exports of dairy products. The second dispute was not agreed to by a USMCA panel, however US dairy groups are calling for new action. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai made a statement expressing her disappointment with the decision and voiced support for continued efforts.

US Court Rejects EPA Decision to Withhold Small Refinery Biofuel Waivers

A US appeals court rejected a decision from the Biden Administration to deny small refiners “hardship waivers” – which would exempt them from nation’s biofuel mandates. Under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), oil refiners must blend billions of gallons of biofuels or buy tradable credits from those that do. Since then, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rejected petitions from oil refiners that claimed blending biofuels into their fuels would cause difficulties financially, however, the court’s decision called this “impermissibly retroactive; contrary to law; and counter to the record evidence.”

Farm Labor Survey Drives H2-A Wages Higher

The Department of Labor released their Farm Labor Survey, which is used to determine the Adverse Effect Wage Rate and therefore how H2-A workers are paid. The survey indicates that in 2024, farmers in 13 states will pay more than $1 more per hour, farmers in 31 states will pay between 50 cents and $1 more, and only in six states will the increase be less than 50 cents.

USDA Announces Next Steps for Agricultural Trade

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced its next steps in efforts to strengthen agricultural trade, which includes the trade missions for 2024 a comment period for the Regional Agricultural Promotion Program (RAPP). The USDA will lead trade missions in South Korea, India, Canada, Colombia, Vietnam, and Morocco, and a full schedule can be found here.

USDA has also opened a public comment period for the RAPP program, which will stay open for 30 days until December 18, 2023.

USDA and White House Prioritize Food Supply Chain

The USDA announced $196 million in loans and grants to strengthen domestic food systems. This announcement comes as the new White House Council on Supply Chain Resilience held its first meeting this week to work on advising agencies to carry out long-term solutions for supply chain resiliency. The White House released a fact sheet on supply chain initiatives and held a live briefing on Monday.

Notable News

This Week’s Legislation

  • Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act, which would direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to strengthen the Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) Rule.
  • Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC) introduced the Enabling Farmer, Food worker, Environmental, and Climate Targets through Innovative, Values-aligned, and Equitable (EFFECTIVE) Food Procurement Act, which would require the USDA to set targets for purchasing sustainable, equitably procured products through a $25 million pilot program.
  • Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced an amendment to the Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 to reauthorize the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production.  
  • Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury (D-NM) introduced an amendment to the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to reauthorize the Community Connect Grant Program.

Upcoming Hearings

Wednesday, November 29

  • 10:00 AM: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Materials will hold a hearing titled “America Leads the Way: Our History as the Global Leader at Reducing Emissions”
  • 10:00 AM: The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing to examine “The Water Resources Development Act of 2024, focusing on stakeholder feedback on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project partnership agreements”
  • 10:15 AM: The House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections will hold a hearing titled “Bad for Business: DOL’s Proposed Overtime Rule”

Thursday, November 30

  • 10:00 AM: The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on “The Role of Federal Research in Establishing a Robust U.S. Supply Chain of Critical Minerals and Materials”
  • 2:00 PM: The House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Energy Policy, and Regulatory Affairs will hold a hearing titled “Digging Deeper: Ensuring Safety and Security in the Critical Mineral Supply Chain”

Contact the Team

Feel free to contact Michael Torrey, Tara Smith, Cassandra Kuball, Barbara Patterson, Katie Naessens, Caroline Snell, Danielle Nelson, Julie McClureAshley Smith, Olivia Lucanie, Heath Brandt, Tracy Boyle or Matthew Hughes with any questions or comments.

Food and agricultural organizations that need the right results in Washington, D.C. can trust Torrey Advisory Group to put its relationships, reputation, and expertise to work on your issue. Since 2005, the firm has successfully provided legislative and regulatory guidance, issues management, and association management services to a wide variety of clients. Learn more about us at torreydc.com. 

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