Before adjourning for their traditional August recess, Congress reached an important deal with the Trump Administration to suspend the debt limit through July 2021, and to increase discretionary spending caps for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. This bipartisan deal will help pave the way for Congress to finalize government spending for fiscal year 2020 this fall.

The House and Senate returned to Washington the week of September 9. With just a few short weeks of session before current government funding expires on September 30, it is expected that a short-term resolution to continue government funding at current levels will be necessary. One or more of these continuing resolutions will likely be needed to keep the government funding until the appropriations work can be completed – likely not until December.

Other potential legislative agenda items for the fall include ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, reauthorization of expiring programs such as the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and House consideration of cannabis banking legislation.

Farmer trade aid

On July 25, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced further details regarding a $16 billion relief package for producers affected by ongoing trade disruptions. USDA’s Market Facilitation Program (MFP), Food Purchase and Distribution Program (FPDP), and Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP) are among the agencies that will be utilized for distribution of the relief funding. Under the FPDP portion of the aid package, surplus commodities such as fruits, vegetables, beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and milk will be purchased for distribution by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to schools, food banks, and other entities serving low-income individuals.

National Organic Program

On July 17, the House Agriculture Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Subcommittee held a hearing to assess the effectiveness of the National Organic Program. USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach testified (PDF) before the subcommittee with National Organic Program Deputy Administrator Jennifer Tucker. The hearing covered a number of topics including fraudulent organic imports, the costs of organic production, and the potential for future use of genetic engineering in organic farming. 

Poultry and livestock

On July 16, the House Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee held a hearing to review the state of the U.S. livestock and poultry economies.  Witnesses included representatives of the National Turkey Federation, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the United Egg Producers, the American Sheep Industry Association, and the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc testified.

Hemp production

On July 25, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing entitled “Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill.” Provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill delisted hemp as a controlled substance and allow for the regulated cultivation, production and sale of hemp. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) indicated the Senate Agriculture Committee membership wants to “provide certainty and predictability for farmers” as USDA implements hemp regulations. Government witnesses included USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach (PDF), USDA General Counsel Stephen Alexander Vaden, EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Alexandra Dapolito Dunn (PDF), and FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner of Food and Drugs Amy Abernethy (PDF).  Kentucky hemp farmer Brian Furnish (PDF), National Hemp Association Executive Director Erica Stark (PDF), and Chairman Darrell Seki (PDF) of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in Red Lake, Minnesota also testified. Under Secretary Ibach indicated that USDA will issue an interim final rule for domestic hemp production this fall in time for 2020 crop preparation.

Hemp pesticides

The EPA is currently seeking comment (PDF) on expanding the use of ten existing pesticide applications to include industrial hemp.