November 21, 2023
Congress passes federal stopgap measure with farm bill extension
On November 15, the Senate cleared the House-passed continuing resolution (CR) to extend government funding beyond November 17, averting a potential government shutdown. This comes after the bill passed in the House on Suspension with a vote of 336-95 the day before, with the Yeas split 209 Democrats and 127 Republicans.
The House “laddered” CR spearheaded by Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) sets two funding deadlines for different parts of the government: January 19 and February 2; the Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be funded through January 19. In addition, the bill would extend the 2018 Farm Bill until September 30, 2024, one year from when it originally expired.
The House bill also accounts for the farm bill programs without baseline, often referred to as “orphan programs,” by providing them with one additional year of funding (equal to one-fifth of the funding provided for each program in the 2018 five-year farm bill). To offset the cost of this additional spending for these “orphan” programs, the bill rescinds $177 million in unobligated funds from the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program.
Leading up to the passage of the new CR, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA) and Ranking Member David Scott (D-GA) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) released a joint press release noting how they were able to reach an agreement on extension terms but that they remain committed to completing a five-year farm bill next year. View the text for the passed continuing resolution.
USDA launches Specialty Crop Competitiveness Initiative
On November 9, USDA announced it was launching the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Initiative, a new initiative to support the specialty crops sector and enhance its global competitiveness.
As part of the initiative, USDA will invest $70.2 million in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative to support 21 research and extension projects. Along with the announcement, USDA released the Specialty Crops Resource Directory, a comprehensive list of USDA resources available to the specialty crop sector.
USDA also published in the Federal Register a request for information for stakeholders to provide input on how USDA can better support the specialty crop industry. Interested parties may submit comments until March 8, 2024.
USDA announces additional ERP funds for 2022 crop losses due to natural disasters
On October 27, the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced it will provide over $3.7 billion to commodity and specialty crop producers who have been impacted by natural disaster events during the 2022 calendar year. Eligible producers can apply for disaster assistance through the Emergency Relief Program (ERP) 2022 with their local FSA office.
The funds for 2022 agricultural disaster assistance were first approved and appropriated through the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Acts of 2023 (P.L. 117-328) that was passed in December of 2022. ERP 2022 intends to cover losses to crops, trees, bushes, and vines due to qualifying, calendar year 2022 natural disaster events including wildfires, hurricanes, floods, derechos, excessive heat, tornadoes, winter storms, freeze (including polar vortex), smoke exposure, excessive moisture, qualifying drought, and related conditions.
This program will be delivered to eligible producers through a two-track process, with FSA intending to make both tracks available to producers at the same time, unlike the last round of ERP for 2020 and 2021 crop losses. Track 1 leverages existing federal crop insurance or Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) data as the basis for calculating payments for eligible producers, whereas Track 2 is a newly designed revenue-based certification program meant to target gaps in emergency relief assistance and eligible produces whose losses were not covered by crop insurance or NAP including revenue losses too small (shallow losses) to be covered by crop insurance.
For both ERP 2022 tracks, all producers must have certain required forms on file with FSA within 60 days of the program deadline. Producers can apply for ERP 2022 starting October 31st, with a program deadline yet to be announced at this time. View more information about ERP 2022 program specifics and eligibility.
House of Representatives elects Mike Johnson of Louisiana as Speaker
On October 25, after more than three weeks without a Speaker, the House finally settled on and elected Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) to fill the vacant role. Rep. Johnson was the Republican Conference’s fourth nominee during this drawn-out process, and he did not lose a single Republican vote from lawmakers who were present, unlike his predecessors gunning for the position.
Prior to this new role, Rep. Johnson served as Vice Chair of the Republican Conference. He is one of the least experienced lawmakers the position has seen in over 140 years, having only served in Congress since 2016, after practicing constitutional law for two decades. With Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) still as Majority Leader, this puts the Louisiana delegation in a strong position of power, as it now has two of its lawmakers claiming the top two spots in House Republican leadership.
Now, Rep. Johnson will lead the chamber as it is set to face some of the toughest challenges of this Congress, such as navigating an impending government funding deadline, an escalating war between Israel and Hamas, and pushing through the remaining FY2024 appropriations bills.
From an agricultural policy lens, ahead of the Speakership vote that got Rep. Johnson elected, he sent around a support letter that laid out an aggressive legislative schedule for the coming months. In his letter, he called attention to both the agriculture appropriations bill and the farm bill as top priorities and outlined that the House could see agriculture appropriations back on the floor as soon as mid-November, and the farm bill in December.
Fast forward to now, while the new CR has distorted some of Johnsons original timeline and goals for passing key agricultural policies, it includes a farm bill extension and a new deadline for the FY24 agriculture spending bill which still shows agriculture is among the top priorities for this Congress.
October 23, 2023
In Historic First, Kevin McCarthy ousted as Speaker of the House
On October 3rd, the House of Representatives approved a historic Motion to Vacate the Office of the Speaker, which resulted in Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) losing control of the gavel. The effort to remove McCarthy was spearheaded by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) alongside a small group of members in the Republican Conference. The Motion to Vacate was adopted by a roll call vote of 216-210, making it the first time in history the House of Representatives has voted to formally oust a Speaker from office. The following 8 Republicans aligned with 208 House Democrats to oust the speaker: Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Ken Buck (R-CO), Tim Burchett (R-TN), Eli Crane (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Bob Good (R-VA), Nancy Mace (R-SC), and Matt Rosedale (R-MT). At this point in time, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is serving as Speaker Pro Tempore and his powers in that role are generally understood to be limited to actions necessary and appropriate to elect a Speaker. The last few weeks the House Republican Conference has scrambled to find a nominee with enough support to garner 217 votes to secure the Speakership. Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) was the original nominee to be McCarthy’s replacement, but he withdrew his name from the Speaker’s race before a vote on the floor could even be called. Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) followed as the secondary nominee from the Conference and was nominated on the floor only to fail to get enough votes to become Speaker both times and is now pausing his current campaign for Speaker. While there is some real and growing momentum at this point behind temporarily expanding Patrick McHenry’s power as Acting Speaker, the path forward may yet involve additional steps within the Conference or on the floor and is not yet certain.
From a farm a bill perspective, while Committees are presumably allowed to resume business, House floor action remains halted until a new Speaker can be elected. This backlog of the legislative process only creates more uncertainty surrounding the upcoming farm bill’s introduction and pathway forward. Especially with Congress needing to use the remaining session days in the legislative calendar to pass appropriation bills, it difficult to see a farm bill making it to floor anytime soon. Some suggest that with recent events and the reality of 2024 being an election year, there is a possibility of punting the farm bill until the next Congress in 2025.
USDA to Begin Issuing Additional Disaster Assistance Through Critical Emergency Relief Programs
Within the last month or so, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced it will begin issuing emergency relief payments totaling over $1.75 billion for eligible farmers and livestock producers, through both the Emergency Relief Program (ERP) and the Emergency Livestock Relief Program (ELRP). These payments aim to assist farming and ranching operations in their recovery from natural disasters that occurred in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Phase Two of ERP is closing with over $1.17 billion allocated for crop disaster assistance payments to producers affected by qualifying natural disasters in 2020 and 2021.
While USDA is working to account for the backlog of 2020 and 2021 losses, FSA has yet to announce the rollout of assistance for 2022 crop losses, despite funding being authorized through last year’s Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill (P.L. 117-328). It is expected that FSA will announce their launch of a modified ERP for 2022 crop losses later this fall. In addition to previous years losses, there is momentum from producers urging USDA to address and provide relief for more recent crop losses caused by 2023 natural disasters. However, with the general dissatisfaction around USDA ERP Phase 2 approach and the delays in initiating 2022 ERP, Congress is likely to pursue a wait and see approach and determine if prescriptive implementation language, beyond funding alone, is appropriate.
SCFBA works with Members to Introduce Marker Bills Ahead of the Upcoming Farm Bill
The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA) has been hard at work pushing for the specialty crop coalition’s top farm bill priorities in the form of various bipartisan marker bills. The most recent and relevant ones of note are H.R. 5062 – The Special Crop Mechanization Assistance Act, H.R. 5061 – The Special Crop Domestic Market Promotion Program Act, and H.R. 5199 – The Specialty Crop Research Act.
The Specialty Crop Mechanization Assistance Act was introduced by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) and cosponsored by Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Josh Harder (D-CA), and John Duarte (R-CA). The intent of the bill is to make it easier for those producers involved in the specialty crop industry to remain competitive in the face of labor shortages by making expensive automation technology more accessible to producers. H.R. 5062 would help establish a reimbursement-based cost-share program that would allow permit growers and processors to invest more in these time and money-saving technologies. Full bill text can be found here.
The Specialty Crop Domestic Market Promotion Program Act, also introduced by Rep. Valadao (R-CA), garners support from cosponsors Reps. Darren Soto (D-FL), Jim Costa (D-CA), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Josh Harder (D-CA), and John Duarte (R-CA). This bill would create a program that helps specialty crop producers market their products to access American markets. This program replicates the popular USDA Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) Market Access Program (MAP) and would specially focus on assisting specialty crop producers tap into niche domestic markets. Full bill text can be found here.
The Specialty Crop Research Act is being led by Rep. Elisa Slotkin (D-MI) and cosponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME). This bill supports the reauthorization of the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) and would funding for federal programs that support research into new methods for ensuring crop resiliency. Full bill text can be found here.
September 25, 2023
GSP reauthorization was front and center at the House Ways & Means Committee
On Wednesday, September 20, the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee held a hearing on, “Reforming the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) to Safeguard U.S. Supply Chains and Combat China.” The Subcommittee discussed the reauthorization of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) to diversify supply chains with developing countries and reduce U.S. reliance on China. In addition, many members highlighted the importance of GSP as a negotiating tool for the promotion of U.S. agricultural exports to GSP beneficiary countries. There was bipartisan consensus about the urgency of GSP’s renewal and reform, while also acknowledging trade has significantly evolved since the program was originally introduced through the Trade Act of 1974. Members discussed ways to update GSP requirements such as rules of origin, competitive need limitations (CNL), and beneficiary eligibility, with emphasis on digital trade and protectionism. Another topic discussed included the importance of renewing the Miscellaneous Tariff Bills (MTB), which is seen as a complimentary program and typically is reauthorized on the same vehicle as GSP. Some Democrats stressed the importance of renewing the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) as part of any package that includes GPS. In conjunction to the recent hearing, IFPA held their Annual Washington Conference where members of the floral industry went to the hill to meet with members to advocate for the reauthorization of the GSP program.
DOL releases proposed rule for H-2A program
On Friday, September 15, the Department of Labor (DOL) released a notice of proposed rulemaking to improve protections for workers in the H-2A temporary agricultural program. Among the proposed changes are requiring new disclosures on recruitment, making new wage rates applicable sooner, allowing workers to access representation in disciplinary cases, and preventing employers from confiscating workers’ travel documents. Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until November 14. Interested parties can submit comments.
August 22, 2023
Floor Debate for Agriculture Funding Bill Postponed Until September
On Thursday, July 27th, scheduled consideration of the USDA, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies fiscal year 2024 (FY2024) appropriations bill on the House floor was pushed until after the August recess when the House Rules Committee failed to set rules on Wednesday. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has said the House will pass the 12 appropriations bills before the September 30 deadline; however, members of the House Freedom Caucus have pledged to oppose appropriations bills unless spending is reduced to FY2022 levels. In one of the final votes before the August recess, the House passed the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies FY2024 appropriations bill, the only FY2024 appropriations bill to be passed in either chamber. Last Thursday, the Senate Committee on Appropriations reported its four remaining appropriations bills out of Committee.
Lawmakers Leave Town for the August Recess Without a Farm Bill Draft
During the last week of July, the House of Representatives and Senate adjourned to embark on their month-long August recess, pausing several timely legislative priorities. In addition to the twelve appropriations bills still needing to be passed, the 2018 Farm Bill is also set to expire on September 30th. While the fast-approaching deadline is concerning, a short-term extension is the likely and temporary solution. On the House side, Agriculture Committee Chairman G.T. Thompson (R-PA) has said he wants to circulate a draft of the farm bill in early September, emphasizing that the Committee will be spending a large part of the August recess working on the bill. On the Senate side, Agriculture Committee Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) has commented that he and Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) are committed to working diligently through the recess, as well. He added that one of the biggest delays to the farm bill’s progress has been the challenges and negotiations between the Congressional Budget Office regarding baseline scores. While September appears to be ruled out for the upper chamber to release a farm bill draft, Senate aides appear optimistic about a release in October.
Members of Congress Circulate a Bipartisan Letter in Support of GSP
Last month, 66 House Members banded together to write a bipartisan ‘Dear Colleague’ letter addressed to the Ways and Means Committee leadership voicing their support for the renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program. The letter highlighted how the GSP program allows the United States to stay competitive against countries like China and promotes U.S. trade leadership to GSP partner countries and allies around the world. The letter also went on to showcase how GSP works to boost trade and economic development by eliminating tariffs on non-sensitive goods from 119 qualifying developing countries. One of the main benefits of GSP to the floral industry is that tariff relief provides pricing certainty and cost savings for floral products where the U.S. does not already have a trade agreement in place, a likely best example would be Ecuador.
House Agricultural Labor Working Group Continues to Make Headway
Towards the end of June, the House Agriculture Committee launched a 14-member bipartisan working group, co-chaired by Reps. Rick Crawford (R-AR) and Don Davis (D-NC), to address issues in the agriculture workforce, particularly reforms to the H-2A visa program. The Agriculture Committee does not have jurisdiction over immigration; however, several members of the group are also on the Judiciary Committee, which does have authority over the issue. The group is aiming to release a preliminary findings report in September and then a final report with policy recommendations sometime in November/December. Due to jurisdictional constraints, the policy recommendations will be suggestive in nature and could help spur activity but will carry no binding requirements on the Judiciary Committee.
July 21, 2023
APHIS Releases 2022 Impact Report
On Wednesday, July 12th, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released its Impact Report for 2022. The report highlights APHIS’s efforts to protect the health and value of America’s agricultural and natural resources. The safe trade section in particular outlines the nature of regular inspections of agricultural imports. Of particular interest was a reference to the 26,176 imported shipments that were cleared, containing 2.22 billion plant units that include cuttings, rooted plants, and tissue culture, much of which made its way into the floriculture industry. The report itself can be found here.
Senate Confirms Xochitl Torres Small as USDA Deputy Secretary
On Tuesday, July 11th, the Senate voted 84-8 to confirm Xochitl Torres Small’s nomination as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Ms. Torres Small previously served as Under Secretary for Rural Development at USDA since 2021 and represented New Mexico’s second district in the House of Representatives from 2018 to 2020. While she served in the House, she was a member of the House Agriculture Committee and was a member on what was at the time the Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Subcommittee. She will replace former Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh, who stepped down from the position in January. Her nomination was supported by numerous farm groups and members of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
House Committee on Agriculture Launches Agriculture Labor Working Group
On Wednesday, June 21st the House Agriculture Committee announced a 14-member, bipartisan working group to address issues in the agriculture workforce, particularly reforms to the H-2A visa program. The group will be co-chaired by Reps. Rick Crawford (R-AR) and Don Davis (D-NC) and is composed of members of the Committee whose districts are especially impacted by workforce challenges. The group will produce an interim and final report on its conclusions, as well as producing legislative recommendations. The Agriculture Committee does not have jurisdiction over immigration; however, several members of the group are also on the Judiciary Committee, which does have authority over the issue.
June 21, 2023
Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chair Rallying Support for GSP, MTB Legislation
Within the last month, House Ways and Means trade subcommittee Chair Adrian Smith (R-NE) has called attention towards wanting to assemble a bipartisan congressional coalition to renew the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and pass a new Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB). The authorization for GSP and MTB lapsed at the end of 2020. While the House and Senate passed legislation to renew the programs during the last Congress, lawmakers failed to reconcile key differences over labor and environmental standards for GSP recipients and push reauthorization across the finish line. On May 25th, the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee held a hearing on “Modernizing Customs policies to Protect American Workers and Secure Supply Chains.” Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Blake Moore (R-UT) both asked questions relating to GSP and expressed their support for renewing the program. As discussions over GSP press on, Rep. Adrian Smith said he was open to options on how to move such trade initiatives either on its own or as a part of a larger legislative package. Ultimately, the reauthorization of GSP would be a huge win for the floral industry, which relies heavily on imported products to sustain and grow their businesses.
Senator Agriculture Committee Holds Hearing on Specialty Crops
On Wednesday, June 7th, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research held a hearing on specialty crops related to the horticulture title of the farm bill. Democrats and Republicans agreed that the next farm bill needs to include greater funding and support for small and specialty crop farmers. The witnesses emphasized the need to reduce barriers for farmers to get their products to market, expand crop insurance program coverage, and further invest in technological innovation and specialty crop research. Democrats discussed the need to make healthy fruits and vegetable more accessible to Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. Republicans warned of the dangers of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overregulating the agricultural industry. Other topics discussed included biostimulant innovation, the organic certification process, Plant Incorporated Protectants (PIP), local procurement, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP), the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), and Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) associated with payment limit waivers for agriculture disaster assistance programs.
IFPA Submits Comments to USDA Regarding Proposed Changes to Regulation of CWR
On June 16th, IFPA formally submitted comments to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) supporting the agency’s recent proposal to update their regulations regarding the disease Chrysanthemum White Rust (CWR). Back in April, APHIS announced the intention to update their import requirements for cut flowers with a notice-based process rather than using the federal register and rulemaking. This change is intended to quicken response time to emerging and evolving pest situations regarding their importation. One of the things IFPA highlighted was, “the notice-based process has been in place for fruits and vegetables for years and has served the industry well. It has proven to be transparent and allowed APHIS to react and respond in a timelier manner.” In addition to the changes to cut flower regulations, APHIS proposed the CWR specific restrictions on the importation of cut flowers of the genera Chrysanthemum, Leucanthemella, and Nipponanthemum from countries where CWR is known to be present. In their comments IFPA emphasized that recent scientific analysis has demonstrated that, “maintaining CWR as quarantine pest is no longer justified or feasible, as the disease is now known to be endemic and distributed across the United States. Furthermore, chrysanthemum cut flower producers actively control for the disease due to marketability concerns and have the necessary tools to do so.” Ultimately, IFPA voiced support in favor of APHIS’s proposal, based on the scientific evidence, to remove CWR-based regulations as it will benefit the cut flower industry.
House and Senate Appropriations Both Favorably Report USDA and FDA Spending Bills
On Thursday, June 15th, the House Committee on Appropriations marked up the Fiscal Year 2024 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Bill. In a long and contentious markup, members engaged in hotly partisan debate on funding levels in the bill, including for congressionally directed spending projects and rural development and nutrition programs. The Committee reported the bill favorably to the House floor on a party-line vote, 34-27. On Thursday, June 22nd, the Senate Committee on Appropriations went through with marking up the FY2024 Agriculture-FDA Bill. It is interesting to note that the Senate Appropriations Committee has not held a full committee markup in over 3 years. This rather short markup in comparison to the House’s featured a more bipartisan nature. The Committee ordered the bill to be reported favorably to the Senate floor with a unanimous 28-0 vote. The House and Senate Appropriation FY24 Agriculture-FDA reports both included language that supports and maintains funds for the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative (FNRI) and the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) Floriculture Crops Report at FY23 levels.
May 22, 2023
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture Releases Bill Text and Holds a Markup
On Thursday, May 18, the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies held a business meeting to markup Fiscal Year 2024 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, And Related Agencies Bill. The bill provides a non-defense discretionary total of $25.313 billion for programs under the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee, $532 million (2.1%) below the FY23 enacted level and $3.622 billion (12.5%) below the FY24 President’s Budget Request. The bill prioritizes protecting food and drug supply; supporting farmers, ranchers, and rural communities; expanding access to broadband; investing in critical agricultural research; and ensuring access to nutrition programs for low-income individuals and families. Funding towards the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was essentially kept flat, avoiding any drastic cuts. Both agencies are home to programs that support floriculture through research, responding to domestic pest and disease issues, as well as facilitating the import of floral material that meets U.S. Phytosanitary standards. The markup concluded with the Subcommittee favorably reported the bill to the Full Committee by voice vote. The full House Appropriations Committee markup is expected to take place this week on Wednesday, May 24th.
Biden Invites Lawmakers to Discuss Farm Bill Amid Looming Debt Limit Crisis
On Thursday, May 11th, President Biden hosted a small, bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House to discuss the upcoming farm bill reauthorization. Congress is aiming to write and pass what is expected to be a $1 trillion-plus bill, but some senior Senate Republicans are increasingly wary that the mounting debt crisis could derail the traditionally bipartisan farm bill. The group of invitees included: House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-PA), Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member David Scott (D-GA), and Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR). In addition, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also attended the meeting. Looking at the farm bill, the specialty crop provisions provided are vital to floriculture search and responding to pests and disease in the industry.
Senate Agriculture Committee Holds a Nomination Hearing
On Wednesday, May 10th, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a nomination hearing for Xochitl Torres Small to be Deputy Secretary of USDA. Torres Small has served as the Under Secretary for Rural Development since October 2021. During the hearing, senators raised concern over USDA’s efficiency and staffing. Torres Small was nominated in February to serve following former Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh’s resignation. Prior to her time at USDA, she served in the United States House of Representatives where she represented New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District. She was a member of the House Agriculture Committee and served on both the Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Subcommittee and the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee. Torres Small brings a well-rounded ag policy background into this role, especially a strong familiarity with specialty crop issues.
April 24, 2023
Hearing in Senate Finance and House Ways & Means Signal an Increased Interest in Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Reauthorization
Two Congressional hearings in the week of March 20th featured U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). The House Ways & Means hearing and Senate finance focused on ongoing trade negotiations, protecting domestic intellectual property, and competition with China, among other things. However, another topic brought up by Members in both chambers and sides of the aisle was the reauthorization of Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) expressed his support for the renewal of GSP. He was curious about the USTR’s correspondence with businesses on the subject of the program’s role in incentivizing imports away from China. Ambassador Tai affirmed she has received positive support for reauthorization from businesses and agreed that GSP provides incentives to diversify trade while fostering economic development in developing nation. Congressman Panetta (D-CA-19), who had visited floral Ecuadorian floral production a week earlier as part of a Congressional delegation trip, asked if she would support a reauthorization that included Ecuador. Ambassador Tai, without hesitation acknowledged she did.
USDA Announces Russellie Bongolan as New White House Liaison
On April 12, Russellie Bongolan was formally promoted to White House Liaison. Bongolan was previously serving as the Deputy White House Liaison since September 2022. Prior to that role, she worked for the Under Secretary for Research Education and Economics as a Special Assistant helping promote key USDA priorities, such as equity, program modernization, and climate change. She brings over ten years of experience in the public and private sectors working on veterans’ health administration and education technology to the table.
USDA Proposes New Changes to Cut Flowers Regulations and Removal of Chrysanthemum White Rust-related Provisions
On April 17, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) opened a comment period associated with a proposed update the import requirements for chrysanthemum cut flowers imports. APHIS is proposing the removal of any additional restrictions on the importation of cut flowers of the genera Chrysanthemum, Leucanthemella, and Nipponanthemum from countries where chrysanthemum white rust (CWR) is known to be present. APHIS released an analysis posted in the Federal Register that further evaluates the efficacy of current regulatory requirements in preventing the spread of CWR and the possible economic impacts connected with removing these requirements.
APHIS will consider comments they receive on these matters on or before June 16, 2023. To comment, go to www.regulations.gov and enter APHIS-2019-0024 in the Search field.
March 28, 2023
House Agriculture holds a hearing on challenges facing American agriculture
On February 28, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to discuss the challenges facing American agricultural producers and consumers. Members of Congress and witnesses discussed regulatory challenges regarding labor shortages, pesticides and waters of the United States, high input costs, impacts of global market trends on domestic producers, consolidation within the agricultural industry, and challenges in the transportation sector. From a specialty crops lens, there were conversations surrounding updating and broadening the safety net to include more covered commodities that traditionally have been excluded from marginal protection programs. This was the first hearing held by the House Agriculture Committee of the 118th Congress. The link for the full hearing can be found here.
White House releases President’s Budget
On March 9, the White House released President Biden’s budget request for fiscal year 2024. The budget included $30.1 billion in spending across the Department of Agriculture (USDA), an increase of 14% from fiscal year 2023. The largest increases at USDA were for nutrition and climate programs. Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Tom Vilsack followed up with a statement commenting that at USDA the budget will: prioritize consistent access to safe, nutritious food for all Americans; invest in climate resilience and U.S. agriculture’s ability to continue be part of the climate solution; advance equity and support for underserved communities; create more and better markets for U.S. agricultural products; and make USDA a great place to work and reform the Firefighter Workforce. The budget summary for USDA can be found here and each agency’s explanatory statement for the budget request can be found here.
EPA pushes for greater protection against pesticides
On Wednesday, March 15, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was taking immediate steps to reduce exposure to four organophosphate pesticides: diazinon, ethoprop, tribufos, and phosmet. EPA found these chemicals pose a serious risk to the health of farmworkers and those in surrounding communities due to spray drift. EPA plans to work with producers of these pesticides to reduce risk and is asking these firms to expedite label changes. In addition, EPA is requesting producers agree to mitigation measures such as prohibiting certain uses and application methods, increasing protective gear for individuals handling the chemicals, requiring buffers between sprayed fields and surrounding communities, and restricting when workers can enter sprayed fields.
Secretary Vilsack testifies before Senate Agriculture Committee
On March 16, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Tom Vilsack testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee as the Committee prepares for the upcoming farm bill. During the hearing, both Republican and Democratic senators questioned the Secretary about USDA spending and delays in assistance to producers. Republican senators questioned Secretary Vilsack about increases in spending for nutrition programs due to changes at the Department. Republicans have voiced concern over how these changes will impact programs which support production agriculture. Democratic senators insisted there will be continued support across nutrition programs in the next farm bill. The link for the full hearing can be found here.
February 21, 2023
Senate Agriculture Committee holds a hearing on trade and horticulture
On February 1, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on agricultural trade and horticulture as it prepares for the upcoming farm bill. Alexis Taylor, USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, and Jenny Moffitt, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, responded to questions about pests and disease, foreign market opportunities, and assistance for specialty crop producers. Under Secretary Moffitt emphasized the impact of the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has on promoting specialty crops in domestic and international markets and thanked Congress for increasing funding to the program during the pandemic. In addition, she spoke to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) efforts to contain and eradicate invasive pests. She described how APHIS is working with both industry stakeholders and Canada to address the threat the box tree moth poses for domestic nurseries. Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) noted the challenges specialty crop producers face regarding labor, import pressure, and pests and disease and voiced support for risk and marketing programs for specialty crop producers.
CBO releases farm bill baseline
On February 15, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its Budget and Economic Outlook, which included budget projections for nutrition and farm safety net and conservation programs over the next decade. The CBO estimate for nutrition spending over the next five years was $45 billion higher than the same estimate from the 2022 outlook, largely due to updates made by USDA to the mechanism which calculates the benefits a participant is eligible for. Conservation programs also saw an increase in anticipated spending due to funding increases in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.
The CBO outlook provides a starting point for Congress to base its farm bill funding levels around. Both Republican and Democratic members acknowledged the increases for nutrition programs will make farm bill negotiations more challenging, as it will likely limit their ability to adjust spending to other programs, including those which support specialty crop production.
House and Senate Agriculture Committees announce subcommittee leadership and membership
On February 17, both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees announced their subcommittee membership and leadership for the 118th Congress. In the Senate, Sens. John Fetterman (D-PA) and Mike Braun (R-IN) were selected as the respective Chair and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research. In the House, Reps. Jim Baird (R-IN) and Abigail Spanberger were selected as respective Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Research, and Biotechnology while Reps. Brad Finstad (R-MN) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT) will lead the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Foreign Agriculture, and Horticulture. These subcommittees all have jurisdiction over programs important to floriculture, including the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative within USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and APHIS oversight of pest and disease inspection for floral imports.
Below are the top Democratic and Republican members for the subcommittees.
Senate Agriculture Committee
- Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade: Chair Tina Smith (D-MN) and Ranking Member Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)
- Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy: Chair Pete Welch (D-VT) and Ranking Member Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)
- Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources: Chair Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Ranking Member Roger Marshall (R-KS)
- Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research: Chair John Fetterman (D-PA) and Ranking Member Mike Braun (R-IN)
- Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Local Food Systems, and Food Safety and Security: Chair Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Ranking Member John Hoeven (R-ND)
House Agriculture Committee
- Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities, Risk Management, and Credit: Chairman Austin Scott (R-GA) and Ranking Member Shontel Brown (D-OH)
- Subcommittee on Forestry: Chairman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and Ranking Member Andrea Salinas (D-OR)
- Subcommittee on Conservation, Research, and Biotechnology: Chairman James Baird (R-IN) and Ranking Member Abigail Spanberger (D-VA)
- Subcommittee on Nutrition, Foreign Agriculture, and Horticulture: Chairman Brad Finstad (R-MN) and Ranking Member Jahana Hayes (D-CT)
- Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry: Chairman Tracey Mann (R-KS) and Ranking Member Jim Costa (D-CA)
- Subcommittee on Commodity Markets, Digital Assets, and Rural Development: Chairman Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Ranking Member Yadira Caraveo (D-CO)
Xochitl Torres Small nominated to serve as Deputy Secretary of USDA
On February 15, President Biden nominated Xochitl Torres Small to serve as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the second highest role in the Department. Torres Small currently serves as the Under Secretary of Rural Development. Prior to serving in the Biden Administration, Torres Small represented New Mexico’s 2nd District in the House of Representatives. While in Congress, she served on the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research, where she gained experience on issues pertinent to floriculture and specialty crops more broadly.
The current Deputy Secretary, Jewel Bronaugh, announced she was stepping down in January. Kevin Shea, the Administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, will serve as the Acting Deputy Secretary upon the conclusion of Deputy Secretary Bronaugh’s service until the confirmation process for Xochitl Torres Small is completed.
January 24, 2023
Republican Steering Committee selects members of the House Committee on Agriculture for the 118th Congress
On Monday, Jan. 16, the House Republican Steering Committee selected the Republican members to serve on the House Agriculture Committee for the 118th Congress. The returning members selected to serve on the Committee include Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson (PA-15) - Chairman, Rep. Austin Scott (GA-08), Rep. Scott DesJarlais (TN-04), Rep. Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Rep. David Rouzer (NC-07), Rep. Trent Kelly (MS-01), Rep. Don Bacon (NE-02), Rep. Dusty Johnson (SD-At Large), Rep. Jim Baird (IN-04), Rep. Tracey Mann (KS-01), Rep. Mary Miller (IL-15), Rep. Barry Moore (AL-02), Rep. Kat Cammack (FL-03), and Rep. Brad Finstad (MN-01).
The new members selected to serve on the Committee include Rep. Frank Lukas (OK-03), Rep. John Rose (TN-06), Rep. Ronny Jackson (TX-13), Rep. Mark Alford (MO-04), Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (OR-05), Rep. Monica Da La Cruz (TX-15), Rep. John Duarte (CA-13), Rep. Nick Langworthy (NY-23), Rep. Max Miller (OH-07), Rep. Marc Molinaro (NY-19), Rep. Zach Nunn (IA-03), and Rep. Derrick Van Orden (WI-03).
Alexis Taylor and Doug McKalip confirmed by Senate for top agriculture trade posts
In the final hours of the 117th Congress, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Alexis Taylor to be the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, and also confirmed Doug McKalip to serve as Chief Ag Negotiator within the Office of the United States Trade Representative. The Biden Administration originally announced its intent to nominate Taylor and McKalip in early 2022, and their confirmation comes after months of agricultural industry concern over the Administration filling top agricultural trade roles.
Taylor previously served as the Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, where she oversaw policy directives for Oregon's 38 agricultural programs and its 500 employees. She was sworn into her office on Dec. 29, 2022. Prior to his confirmation, McKalip served in positions at both the White House and the USDA and has most recently worked as a senior advisor to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. McKalip was sworn into his office on Jan. 9, 2023.
EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers release new rule defining WOTUS
On Dec. 30, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers announced the final "Revised Definition of 'Waters of the United States' " rule, which will be effective 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. The new rule defining "waters of the United States" or WOTUS, under the Clean Water Act maintains longstanding exemptions for farming activities but also trims back an exclusion for prior converted cropland that had been in the Trump administration's Navigable Waters Protection Rule. Although the new rule has been released, it may be short-lived depending on the outcome of the Supreme Court's current case on WOTUS, Sackett v. EPA. Among the changes made in the new rule are:
- Allows for streams and wetlands that meet either the "significant nexus" test former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy created in Rapanos v. United States or the conservative majority's "relatively permanent" standard to fall under the scope of the law.
- Reverses the Trump administration's vast retraction of authority over "ephemeral" streams that flow only in response to precipitation.
- Restores protections to millions of acres of wetlands that fell outside of federal jurisdiction under the Trump rule, both because of the change to ephemeral streams and because of changes in which wetlands get protected.
- Expands a set of categorical exclusions from those the agency initially proposed, including for wetlands that were converted to cropland before 1985, ditches carved wholly in dry land that don't carry relatively permanent flow, and artificial lakes and ponds.
Senator Stabenow to retire at the end of term
On Jan. 5, 2023, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) announced that she would not seek reelection in 2024. In a statement released by her office, Senator Stabenow went on to say, "When my term ends, I intend to begin a new chapter in my life that includes to serve our State outside of elected office while spending precious time with my amazing 96-year-old mom and my wonderful family."
Senator Stabenow currently serves as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and also chairs the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. Senator Stabenow's official date of retirement will be Jan. 5, 2025.