Farm Progress

Also: Improving USDA equity and addressing China’s ‘problematic’ trade polices

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

February 26, 2024

6 Min Read
U.S. capitol building with flag background
Getty Images/franckreporter

There’s never a shortage of agriculture news. Here are a few policy stories you may have missed over the past week.

Shutdown looming

The latest deadline for Congress to pass a fiscal year 2024 budget is now less than a week away. Per the terms of the budget extension lawmakers agreed to in January, lawmakers must finalize budgets for four appropriations packages by March 1. Without a deal, multiple federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, could be forced to furlough employees and shutter operations.

Congress is also facing a March 7 deadline to pass eight remaining appropriations packages.

Lawmakers have already passed three temporary funding extensions since last September. With no agreement in sight so far, they may be inclined to pass a fourth. However, per the terms of last summer’s bipartisan debt ceiling compromise, all federal agencies could be subject to 1% across the board spending cuts if a full-year budget is not passed by the end of April.

Crocket looks to revamp rural housing voucher program

Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D- Texas, introduced legislation she says will make critical improvements to the Rural Housing Service’s voucher program. That program subsidizes rent to qualifying families who earn less than 80% of the median family income and live in multi-family properties financed through the Rural Rental Housing Program.

Crockett’s bill would make some administrative changes to the program and improve the readability of government notices. It also directs the Rural Housing service to develop a plan to identify at-risk tenants and ensure expedited processing and protections.

The Dallas area lawmaker notes that Texas has an acute shortage of available rental homes for low-income households. She says the problem is even worse for rural Texans who often have to move 50 miles or more to find affordable and available housing.

“Even in urban districts like mine, most everyone has family or friends living in rural communities who have been separated from their support networks in order to remain housed,” Crockett says. “Introducing this bill is a crucial step towards addressing the housing crisis in Texas, helping rural Texans access and maintain their rural housing vouchers and boosting awareness of this program to landlords who may wish to participate.”

USDA equity commission releases report

USDA’s Equity Commission released its final report on Feb. 22. The report included 66 recommendations for how to advance equity across the department.

Among them were calls to broaden the definition of “farmer” and “rancher” in the census of agriculture and to hold USDA leaders more accountable for their equity initiatives. It also called on USDA to improve access to conservation programs and allow more culturally appropriate foods in federal nutrition programs.

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member David Scott said the report, as well as the very existence of a USDA Equity Commission, was a historical step toward addressing systemic inequity. He believes those efforts will help put USDA on a “proper footing” toward improving services and programs for all Americans.

“These recommendations are not a silver bullet, and challenges are sure to arise during the implementation process,” Scott says. “By eliminating barriers to and increasing fairness in USDA programs, we not only advance equity—we advance the interests of American agriculture.”

House takes on Paraguayan beef

Rep. Ronny Jackson, R- Texas, is leading a mostly Republican House effort to overturn a recent USDA decision to allow importing of beef from Paraguay. While the agency says safety measures are in place, critics say the decision puts American agriculture at risk of animal diseases, particularly Food and Mouth Disease.

Jackson is attempting to overturn the rule using a process called the Congressional Review Act. That process allows Congress to rescind an executive branch rule if both chambers vote to overturn.

“This dangerous rule, based off decade-old data, is another example of the Biden administration failing to understand the needs of America's agriculture producers, and further demonstrates their lack of insight and care for the industry,” Jackson says. “I am proud to lead this CRA to prohibit the importation of risky Paraguayan beef alongside colleagues from both sides of the aisle, who know how vital it is to protect U.S. cattle producers from devastating foreign animal disease outbreaks.”

Co-sponsors for the bill include Reps. Yadira Caraveo, D- Colo., Frank Lucas, R- Okla., Doug LaMalfa, R- Calif., David Rouzer, R- N.C., Don Bacon, R- Neb., Mike Bost, R- Ill., , Randy Feenstra, R- Iowa, Mary Miller, R- Ill.,  Barry Moore, R- Ala., Brad Finstad R- Minn., John Rose, R- Tenn., Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R- Ore., Brian Babin, R- Texas, Troy Nehls, R- Texas, Stephanie Bice, R- Okla, Ralph Norman, R- S.C.,  , Mike Lawler, R- N.Y., Mike Flood, R- Neb., and August Pfluger, R- Texas.

AFBF, National Farmers Union call for milk price stability

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union sent a joint letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Feb. 22 calling for and emergency change to the Class I mover milk pricing formula. The letter was signed by AFBF President Zippy Duvall and National Farmers Union President Rob Larew.

The 2018 Farm Bill changed the Class I milk mover formula to the average of the advanced Class III and Class IV skim milk formulas plus 75 cents. AFBF and the National Farmers Union want a return to the previous formula based on the higher of the Class III and Class IV price.

In their letter, the two organizations argue that the 2018 change was a “quick legislative decision” made at the request of dairy processors and dairy cooperatives without a hearing record of demonstrated need. It was intended as a revenue-neutral way to improve risk management opportunities for beverage milk.

According to Duvall and Larew, the formula has brought dairy farmers around $55 million in losses.

“Current market dynamics underscore the need for expedited return to the ‘higher-of’ Class I mover,” they say. “The current Class I mover was a well-intentioned but misguided policy that has reduced dairy farmer income. Emergency implementation of the ‘higher-of’ Class I mover formula will staunch persistent losses associated with a policy that has left dairy farmers struggling to make ends meet.”

New report critical of China’s WTO compliance

According to a report from the Office of the United States Trade Representative, China remains the biggest challenge to the international trading system established by the World Trade Organization.

“It has been 22 years since China acceded to the WTO, and China still embraces a state-directed, non-market approach to the economy and trade, which runs counter to the norms and principles embodied by the WTO,” U.S. Trade Ambassador Katherine Tai says. “Even more problematic, China’s approach targets industries for global market domination by Chinese companies using an array of constantly evolving non-market policies and practices.”

China was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2001. The U.S. China Relations Act enacted the year before requires the USTR to issues a report to Congress each year regarding China’s compliance.

Tai says this latest report details the breadth and scale of China’s non-market policies and practices, as well as the serious economic harm they cause the United States and other nations.

“It is a stark reminder that the members of the international trading system must continue to work together to defend our shared interests against these many harmful policies and practices, particularly in sectors targeted by China’s industrial plans,” Tai says.

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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