Congress has spent much of autumn dealing with pressing budget and fiscal matters, and continuing its deliberations of the physical infrastructure and social policy programs advocated under President Biden’s “Build Back Better” economic recovery initiatives. As part of this process, House Agriculture Committee members have advocated (PDF) for investments in agricultural research, education and innovation; biofuels production; rural development; forestry; and conservation.

When the House and Senate return from a brief Thanksgiving break, they will face some immediate deadlines including the need to extend funding for federal government agencies and programs beyond December 3, the date the current stopgap funding measure expires. They will also need to lift the government debt ceiling to avoid a default on government obligations. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has notified (PDF) Congress that another debt ceiling increase will be necessary shortly after Thanksgiving.  It is likely Congress will spend much of December working to complete their work on all of these items before the Christmas holiday.

Senate Dairy Hearing

The Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Dairy, Livestock, Poultry, Local Food Systems, Food Safety and Security held a September hearing entitled “Milk Pricing: Areas for Improvement and Reform.” Panelists included Mrs. Christina Zuiderveen (PDF), Managing Partner of Black Soil Dairy, LLC in Granville, Iowa; Mr. Jim Davenport (PDF), Owner of Toll Gate Farm and Member of Hudson Valley Fresh from Ancramdale, New York; Dr. Robert Wills, President of Cedar Grove Cheese Inc. and Clock Shadow Creamery, LLC in Plain, Wisconsin; Ms. Catherine H. de Ronde (PDF), Vice President of Economics and Legislative Affairs for Agri-Mark; Mr. Mike Ferguson (PDF), Owner of Ferguson Dairy Farm in Senatobia, Mississippi; and Dr. Christopher Wolf, Professor of Agricultural Economics at Cornell University. Committee members and witnesses discussed current dairy pricing issues following modifications to milk pricing included in the 2018 farm bill, and the exacerbating impacts of price volatility and demand uncertainty during the pandemic and economic downturn.

 House Livestock Hearing

The House Agriculture Committee held an October 7 hearing to “Review the State of the Livestock Industry.” The hearing included significant discussion of the ongoing challenges within the beef industry as consumer beef prices remain higher than prices paid to cattle producers. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley (R) testified (PDF) in favor of his own legislation (PDF) to address cattle market price transparency, and indicated that he was working with fellow Senators to write additional compromise legislation. House Agriculture Livestock Subcommittee Ranking Member Dusty Johnson (R-SD) noted the complexities of the issues and ongoing cattle industry stakeholder discussions, citing a report recently issued by the Agricultural and Food Policy Center (AFPC) at Texas A&M that was commissioned by former House Agriculture Committee leaders Colin Peterson (D-MN) and Mike Conaway (R-TX). Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified (PDF) regarding USDA’s efforts to assist producers with African Swine Fever and other animal disease threats, as well as, drought conditions and other disasters; USDA’s impending efforts to propose new rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act intended to increase competition in agricultural processing industries; and the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better proposals.

Additional hearing witnesses included Oklahoma Farmers Union President Scott Blubaugh, on behalf of the National Farmers Union (PDF); Two Mile Pork CEO Scott Hays and Vice President of the National Pork Producers Council (PDF); Brad Boner, Vice President of the American Sheep Industry Association (PDF); Todd Wilkinson, Vice President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (PDF); FPL Food owner Francois Léger, on behalf of the North American Meat Institute (PDF). House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott (D-GA) noted that the witnesses provided valuable information on the need for price discovery improvement, as well as, improved competition and capacity in the processing sector. He further noted that The Committee Congress extended reauthorization of the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act for one year in 2020, and included an additional short-term extension in the stopgap government funding bill that expires on December 3.

USDA Salmonella Initiative

The USDA launched an initiative in October to reduce salmonella illnesses linked to poultry. While acknowledging consistent reductions in the occurrence of salmonella in poultry products, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said further steps are necessary to help prevent salmonella contamination throughout the poultry supply chain and production system to protect public health. USDA will seek stakeholder input on “specific salmonella control and measurement strategies, including pilot projects, in poultry slaughter and processing establishments” to determine if different approaches could result in a reduction of salmonella illness in consumers.