Also: New USDA budget targets foreign ag land ownership and includes WIC funding.

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

March 11, 2024

5 Min Read
U.S. capitol building with flag background
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There’s never a shortage of agriculture news. Here are a few policy stories you may have missed over the past week.

House report address ag labor crisis

The House Ag Committee’s bipartisan Agricultural Working Group released its long-awaited ag labor report last Thursday. The working group recommends creating a single port for H-2A applications as well as allowing H-2A employers to submit staggered date-of-entry applications. It also advocates for streamlining the current H-2A recruiting and hiring process and expediting reviews of delayed H-2A worker applications.

Other recommendations include creating new heat standards for H-2A workers and adjusting the current wage rates.

In a joint public statement following the report’s release, agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson and Ranking Member David Scott said they hoped the report would serve as a roadmap to legislative solutions that protect workers and ensure a fair work environment while also addressing the current agriculture labor crisis.

Multiple ag organizations praised the committee’s working including the National Milk Producers Federation, the International Fresh Produce Association, the National Council of Agricultural Employers, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, the Livestock Marketing Association, the International Dairy Foods Association, the Meat Institute, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union.

USDA budget approved

The Department of Agriculture finally has a 2024 budget. After months of delays, Congress managed to pass six spending bills funding government agencies through the end of the fiscal year. President Biden signed the $460 billion bipartisan spending package on Saturday. Lawmakers will now turn their attention to passing a second set of six appropriations packages before a March 22 deadline.

An additional $1 billion was allocated to USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. Commonly known as WIC, the program provides health and nutrition assistance to low-income mothers and young children. Program supporters had warned that eligible recipients might be turned away if new funding was not approved.

Also included in USDA’s budget were new tools to monitor foreign agricultural land ownership. The Agriculture Department will now be represented on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. USDA will be required to report foreign agriculture land transactions. The agency also received additional funding to improve its foreign land ownership tracking and reporting processes.

“While this legislation is not perfect, it advances a number of priorities important to cattle producers, including critical investments in electronic animal ID tags for producers and strengthening oversight of lab-grown protein,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Mark Eisele said last week before the final vote. “Further, a government shutdown would unnecessarily harm farmers and ranchers by restricting their access to federal personnel, essential market information, and delaying access to critical disaster assistance programs.”

This won’t be the last word on federal budgets. While Congress still needs to finalize half of this year’s budget, President Biden is already releasing his budget proposal for fiscal year 2025.

Congress is ultimately responsible for budget matters. A president’s budget typically serves as a starting point. It’s also a preview for what the administration and his party will likely prioritize in the coming year.

Fiscal year 2025 begins on Oct. 1.

USDA invests $2.3 billion in rural clean energy

During the March 6 National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual meeting in San Antonio, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA was in vesting $2.3 billion toward ongoing efforts to expand clean power in rural communities.

Approximately $139 million will go to five projects funded through the Powering Affordable Clean Energy program that was created in the Inflation Reduction Act. Those projects will help disadvantaged and tribal communities in Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii and Nebraska.

Vilsack also announced an additional $2.2 billion will go to energy projects in 39 states. He says they will help ensure more than 2 million people in rural areas have access to reliable electricity.

“Rural electric cooperatives are the backbone of America’s power delivery, and the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to helping them create a path toward a cleaner, more sustainable future that lowers energy costs and creates jobs and lasting economic prosperity for people everywhere,” Secretary Vilsack said.

House Freedom Caucus latest group to oppose EATS Act

While many agriculture groups would like to see California’s controversial Proposition 12 overturned, a growing list of lawmakers are speaking out against proposed legislation that would do just that.

On Friday, a group of House lawmakers, mostly members of the hard-right freedom caucus, sent a letter to House Ag Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson and Ranking Member David Scott urging them to exclude the EATS act from new farm bill legislation.

The group of Congressional reps contend that the legislation will hurt thousands of American farmers while benefitting foreign-owned farms. According to them, the act is also at odds with their “foundational Republican principles of states’ rights, national sovereignty and fair competition.”

They say thousands of American pig farms and distributors are ready to meet the demand of the California market. They contend Prop 12 actually proved a value-added opportunity.

“Rather than work against the interests of American farmers and abandon long-held principles of federalism, Congress should focus on reducing Chinese influence on American production agriculture,” the lawmakers say at the letter’s conclusion. “We recommend you start with the pig industry, given the extraordinary control exerted by Beijing.”

The letter was signed by Reps. Anna Paulina Luna, R- Fla., Jeff Van Drew, R- N.J., Matt Gaetz, R- Fla., Byron Donalds, R- Fla., Andy Biggs, R- Ariz., Nancy Mace, R- S.C., Matt Rosendale, R- Mont., Marjorie Taylor Greene, R- Ga., Tim Burchett, R- Tenn., and Bob Good, R- Virg.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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