Farm Progress

Also: Summer EBT, Continuous CRP and pricey H-2A labor

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

January 15, 2024

4 Min Read
Farm policy roundup
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.

15 Senators tell SEC to carefully consider impact of JBS plan

Fifteen Senators sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission Jan. 11, expressing their “deep concerns” regarding a potential initial public offering by Brazil-based meatpacking company JBS Foods. In the letter, they urged regulators to protect the integrity of U.S. capital markets and the legal rights of U.S. investors by exposing risks they say JBS poses to potential shareholders. Among the risks Senators cite are JBS’s history of corruption, human rights abuses, monopolization of the meatpacking market and environmental risks. The Senators also urged SEC officials to closely examine the company’s draft filing to ensure it is neither incomplete nor inaccurate in any material respect.

“Over twelve years, JBS engaged in an extensive, international bribery corruption scheme as well as illicit activity in the United States,” the letter says. “In 2020, JBS holding company J&F Investimentos S.A. (J&F), pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a criminal penalty of more than $256 million for engineering an extensive political bribery effort, targeting 1,800 government officials in Brazil.”

The Senators go on to say that JBS has a long history of misleading investors in its corporate fillings by exaggerating environmental stewardship and downplaying other risks.

Senators signing the letter include Cory Booker, D-N.J., John Barrasso, R- Wyo. Richard Blumenthal, D- Conn., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, John Fetterman, Pa., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Chris Van Hollen, D-M.d., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

USDA reopens Continuous CRP signups

USDA began accepting new applications for the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program on Jan. 12. Producers have until July 31 to submit an offer to become effective by Oct. 1. The program includes several options that incentivize various conservation efforts. Those who have areas enrolled in the program set to expire on Sept. 30 are eligible to re-enroll.

“Continuous CRP is one of the best conservation tools we can provide producers and landowners,” Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux says. “Whether a producer wants to focus on water quality benefits or work with one of our partners to address a natural resource concern in their area, the program offers many options to help you meet your resource conservation goals.”

USDA encourages those interested in submitting an offer to contact FSA at their local USDA Service Center.

35 States enroll in new Summer EBT program

Thirty-five states, five U.S. territories and four tribal nations have signed on to participate in USDA’s new Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program. The new initiative allows states to give families $40 per month for each eligible child to purchase food at grocery stores during the summer.

USDA projects the program will provide nearly $2.5 billion in food assistance to approximately 70% of the nation’s eligible students. States that have chosen not signed up for the program this year include Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Iowa Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming. Those states, as well as additional tribal nations, will be eligible to opt-in to the program in 2025 if they choose.

“No kid should have to spend their summer hungry, or without nutritious food,” Deputy Agriculture Secretary Xochitl Torres Small says. “Summer EBT is a giant step forward in meeting the needs of our nation’s children and families throughout the year, and especially in the summer months.”

House lawmakers express concerns over proposed H-2A labor rates

A group of 74, mostly Republican, House members are calling on Congress to freeze H-2A guestworker wages in upcoming funding legislation. In a Jan. 11 letter to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders, they content the H-2A labor rates paid by agricultural employers have become unaffordable. They note that recent adjustments to the Adverse Effect Wage Rate have more than doubled over the past two decades.

American Farm Bureau Federation data shows the national average AEWR is likely to be around $17.55 per hour. That is up 5% compared to 2023. At the same time Canadian producers pay closer to $11 per hour for field workers. Mexico’s rate is approximately $1.50 per hour.

“For farmers and ranchers who use H-2A, the skyrocketing AEWR will only compound inflated input costs like energy and fertilizer, other guest worker expenses like transportation and housing, and burdens from several impending federal regulations and fees,” the lawmakers say. “USDA data shows that hired farm labor costs account for nearly 15% of total cash expenses.”

They add that more labor-intensive industries will be hardest hit, including specialty crop growers, who already spend nearly 40% of their total cash expenses on labor alone. If nothing is done, lawmakers argue that many of their constituents will be forced shutter their businesses.

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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