Britain calls for 800 foreign butchers to avoid pig cull

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain will offer six-month emergency visas to 800 foreign butchers to avoid a mass pig cull, it said on Thursday, after farmers complained that an exodus of workers from abattoirs and meat processors had left the pork sector fighting for survival.

A combination of Brexit and COVID-19 has sparked an exodus of east European workers, leaving some 120,000 pigs in barns and fields across the country waiting to be slaughtered, according to the National Pig Association.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the temporary visas would address the problem which farmers said was putting livelihoods at risk and causing animal welfare issues.

“What we’re going to do is allow butchers in abattoirs and meat processors dealing with pigs, to be able to come in on a temporary basis under the Seasonal Worker scheme for up to six months,” Eustice told reporters.

“That will help us to deal with the backlog of pigs that we currently have on farms to give those meat processors the ability to slaughter more pigs.”

Eustice said around 800 butchers would be needed to clear the backlog and announced private storage aid to help abattoirs store meat.

But he said the government had decided not to ease the English language requirement for skilled visas to allow more butchers to come via that route – a key demand from farmers, who have been calling for weeks for ministers to take action.

“The industry had asked us to look at the language requirement on the skills route,” he said. “We have looked at that but we don’t think that provides an answer to their particular challenge. And that’s why we decided instead to have temporary visas.”

The lack of butchers is just one of a number of areas where Britain is facing acute labor shortages.

Last month, it announced plans to issue temporary visas for 5,000 foreign truck drivers and 5,500 poultry workers, but the government wants businesses to invest in a British workforce rather than rely on cheap foreign labor.

Ministers have also been keen to downplay suggestions that Britain’s exit from the European Union was the main issue hitting labor in the supply chains.

Many workers in the pig industry had gone home during the pandemic and simply not returned, Eustice said.

“It’s a complex picture: there have been lots of market disruptions, problems with access to the Chinese market, maybe some overproduction – here production is up by about 7% – and yes, labor has been an aggravating factor but it’s not been the only factor,” Eustice said.

“The pig industry, and in common with many parts of the food industry, has seen a loss of staff as many of the EU citizens that they relied on left during the pandemic – nothing to do with Brexit.”

As part of the measures to address the problem with the lack of lorry drivers, he said cabotage rules for EU drivers would be relaxed so that they could do as many trips as they liked over a two-week period.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Michael Holden and Nick Macfie)

Stung by pandemic and JBS cyberattack, U.S. ranchers build new beef plants

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. cattle ranchers and investors are sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into new beef plants after temporary closures of massive slaughterhouses at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic left farmers with nowhere to send animals destined to be turned into meat.

A cyberattack against the U.S. unit of Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS SA that idled nearly a quarter of America’s beef production earlier this month again highlighted vulnerabilities in the country’s meat supply chain and caused more headaches for farmers.

Ranchers, as well as the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA), say the sector is too consolidated and therefore reliant on a handful of large processors and their industrial meatpacking plants.

Four industry behemoths – JBS USA, Tyson Foods Inc, Cargill Inc and National Beef Packing Company – slaughter 85% of grain-fattened cattle carved into steaks, ribs and roasts for consumers.

Smaller startup meat plants are aiming to provide local ranchers with more places to slaughter cattle, particularly those raised to produce higher-quality beef. They say adding plants can ensure some meat production continues if large facilities close.

When large meat plants close, meat supplies tighten while ranchers get stuck with cattle that would otherwise have been slaughtered. That means the price of cattle generally falls, while the price of meat in supermarkets rises.

Extended shutdowns of some of the biggest U.S. slaughterhouses due to COVID-19 outbreaks hobbled meat production in spring 2020, leading to limits on consumers’ purchases at grocery stores and a decline in frozen inventories that processors have yet to replenish.

Rusty Kemp saw the need for more processing capacity after a 2019 fire at a Tyson Foods plant in Holcomb, Kansas, left meat buyers scrambling for supplies and cattle producers with nowhere to sell their cattle. Then, the pandemic and ransomware attack on JBS hit.

Kemp is now planning to break ground on a $300 million beef plant in Nebraska this fall.

“We thought the Holcomb fire was an absolute train wreck and then COVID came along and Holcomb didn’t seem that bad,” he said.

Kemp’s plant, named Sustainable Beef, will kill 1,500 cattle a day and use blockchain technology so consumers can track a piece of meat all the way back to the ranch, he said.

Sustainable Beef is co-owned by cattle producers who will provide animals for slaughter to the plant, instead of to major packers, Kemp said. He hired former executives of one of the biggest processors, Cargill, as consultants because of their expertise.

But Kemp said he is not trying to pick a fight with the four major processors and that bigger plants are still needed to produce large volumes of meat.

“We absolutely need more capacity and more players,” Kemp said.

MORE ROOM TO SLAUGHTER

Nationwide, at least five new processing facilities of varying sizes have opened or are planned following supply shocks early in the pandemic. Combined with expansions at existing plants, including one owned by JBS, daily U.S. slaughter capacity is set to increase by about 5%, according to a Reuters calculation and data from industry group the North American Meat Institute.

Market conditions are favorable for new entrants. Cattle supplies are ample, while beef prices and profit margins for packers have soared due to strong exports and demand from U.S. consumers.

In Butler, Missouri, Todd Hertzog and his family opened Hertzog Meat Company this month after considering the project for five years.

Though the $3.75 million plant is only slaughtering about 20 cattle a day, it serves nearby ranchers who want to produce higher-quality beef, said Hertzog, who manages the operation.

“The pandemic opened our eyes to the needs of local producers,” he said.

Production disruptions during the pandemic pushed Cliff Welch to begin construction on a meat processing plant near Central City, Kentucky, at a price tag of more than $1.2 million. The cyberattack on JBS then reinforced Welch’s decision to build the facility, slated to open in late 2021, he said.

Welch aims to slaughter 75 cattle a week to start, with the capability to eventually kill 300 head a week. He said he will produce custom cuts of meat using “old-style butchery” and plans to sell it locally.

“I’m starting from ground zero,” Welch said. “It’s a big undertaking.”

Welch said he received a $250,000 grant from Kentucky for the project.

The U.S. Agriculture Department has pledged to support increased processing as part of a $4 billion initiative to strengthen the country’s food system.

“The hope would be that by spreading out, by creating diversity in size and diversity of ownership and diversity of operations, we create greater resilience,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters after the JBS attack.

Missouri last year paid about $17 million in grants to meat processors with fewer than 200 employees that wanted to expand or build new facilities, state agriculture director Chris Chinn said. The payments doubled the amount of red meat inspected by the state in a program sparked by the pandemic, she said.

“It added stability to our local communities and our rural areas,” Chinn said. “They didn’t have to depend on one local source to get their food.”

SMALLER PLANTS, SAME PROBLEMS

Small facilities are finding they face some of the same challenges as larger outfits, notably a labor shortage, without the benefit of a big corporation behind them.

After opening in March, Missouri Prime Beef Packers struggled to find workers for a plant in Pleasant Hope, Missouri, that now kills about 200 cattle a day, despite putting ads in newspapers and on radio, said Dallen Davies, director of company culture.

The facility is slaughtering cattle raised under special guidelines, such as being grass-fed or certified for humane handling, as a way to add value for ranchers and provide a better product for consumers, Davies said.

Plants need to differentiate themselves because they cannot compete with industry titans on volume or on low prices achieved with mass production lines.

Former President Donald Trump last year said he urged the Justice Department to look into allegations the meatpacking industry broke antitrust law because the price that slaughterhouses pay farmers for animals dropped even as meat prices climbed. U.S. governors and lawmakers are pushing the department to keep probing.

Those involved in slaughterhouse expansion say they still need to do something to give ranchers more options in the meantime.

“We really don’t want to wait around and see if the government is going to solve this problem,” Kemp said. “We decided to take matters into our own hands and do this.”

(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis)

U.S. defends minority farmer debt relief despite legal fight

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) is defending efforts to wipe clean government-backed loans to farmers facing decades of discrimination, despite a temporary restraining order on the debt relief plan issued by a U.S. District court last week.

A USDA spokesperson said the agency will be ready to process payments on an estimated $4 billion in debt relief for 17,000 Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and Asian farmers once legal battles are resolved. It planned to start the payments in June.

“USDA will continue to forcefully defend its ability to carry out this act of Congress and deliver debt relief to socially disadvantaged borrowers,” a USDA spokesperson said on Tuesday.

The spokesperson said the government cannot appeal the restraining order, which pauses payments until the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin rules more broadly on a lawsuit over whether or not the debt relief program discriminates against non-minority farmers.

For decades, USDA employees and programs have discriminated against socially disadvantaged farmers by denying loans and delaying payments, resulting in $120 billion in lost farmland value since 1920, according to a 2018 Tufts University analysis. The Biden administration’s loan forgiveness program is aimed at addressing those systemic inequities.

The lawsuit, filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on behalf of 12 white farmers, aims to halt the debt relief by claiming it excludes farmers on the basis of race. It is one of several lawsuits filed after the USDA detailed plans to implement the minority farmer debt-relief provision, which is part of the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed in March.

Judge William C. Griesbach, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, granted the temporary restraining order on June 10.

“The obvious response to a government agency that claims it continues to discriminate against farmers because of their race or national origin is to direct it to stop,” Griesbach said in the decision.

Some Black farmers are not surprised the relief has stalled, having seen previous government anti-discrimination efforts underdeliver.

“Talk is cheap. I can’t buy grain with it. I want to know when you’re going to help some farmers,” said Lloyd Wright, a Virginia farmer who served as the director of the USDA’s Office of Civil Rights in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Wright said Black farmers have been promised relief from federal discrimination in the past, only to be repeatedly disappointed. He suggests eligible farmers continue paying on loans, so they do not end up behind if the program is permanently blocked.

(Reporting by Christopher Walljasper; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

‘Big risk’: California farmers hit by drought change planting plans

By Norma Galeana and Christopher Walljasper

FIREBAUGH, Calif. (Reuters) – Joe Del Bosque is leaving a third of his 2,000-acre farm near Firebaugh, California, unseeded this year due to extreme drought. Yet, he hopes to access enough water to produce a marketable melon crop.

Farmers across California say they expect to receive little water from state and federal agencies that regulate the state’s reservoirs and canals, leading many to leave fields barren, plant more drought-tolerant crops or seek new income sources all-together.

“We’re taking a big risk in planting crops and hoping the water gets here in time,” said Del Bosque, 72.

Agriculture is an important part of California’s economy and the state is a top producer of vegetables, berries, nuts and dairy products. The last major drought from 2012 to 2017 reduced irrigation supplies to farmers, forced strict household conservation measures and stoked deadly wildfires.

California farmers are allocated water from the state based on seniority and need, but farmers say water needs of cities and environmental restrictions reduce agricultural access.

Nearly 40% of California’s 24.6 million acres of farmland are irrigated, with crops like almonds and grapes in some regions needing more water to thrive.

“I’m going to be reducing some of our almond acreage. I may be increasing some of our row crops, like tomatoes,” said Stuart Woolf, who operates 30,000 acres, most of it in Western Fresno County. He may fallow 30% of his land.

Del Bosque, who grows melons, asparagus, sweet corn, almonds and cherries, said his operation could lose more than half a million dollars in income, and put many of his 700 workers out of work. He and other farmers say drought has been exacerbated by California’s lack of investment in water storage infrastructure over the last 40 years.

“Fundamentally, a storage project is paid for by the people who want the water,” said Jeanine Jones, drought manager for California’s Department of Water Resources. “All we can do is deliver what mother nature provides.”

New dams face environmental restrictions meant to protect endangered fish and other wildlife, and don’t solve near-term water needs, said Ernest Conant, regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation, California-Great Basin region, the federal agency that overseas dams, canals and water allocations in the Western United States.

“We simply don’t have enough water to supply our agricultural users,” said Conant. “We’re hopeful some water can be moved sooner than October, but there’s no guarantees.”

Water scarcity threatens Del Bosque’s watermelon crop, which is due to be harvested in August. But it also has dire consequences for those planting it.

“If there is no water, there is no work. And for us farm workers, how are we going to support the family?” said 57-year-old Pablo Barrera, who was planting watermelons for Del Bosque.

Woolf said as the state continues to restrict water access, he’s exploring ways to generate income off the land he can no longer irrigate, including installing solar arrays and planting Agave, normally grown in Mexico to make tequila.

“You’ve got to absorb all of your farming costs on the few acres that you’re farming,” he said. “How do we maximize the value of the land that we are not farming?”

(Reporting by Norma Galeana in Firebaugh, California and Christopher Walljasper; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Diane Craft)

Nervous North American farmers set to ‘seed in faith’ into parched soils

By Rod Nickel and Julie Ingwersen

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Fields across the Canadian Prairies and the U.S. Northern Plains are among the driest on record, raising production risks in one of the world’s key growing regions for canola and spring wheat.

As planting season begins, the dusty soils generate fears that seeds will fail to germinate or yield smaller crops in a year when demand for canola already far outstrips supply. Unusually strong wheat exports to China for animal feed have also lowered global supplies of the main ingredient in bread and pasta.

Prices of canola, which is processed into vegetable oil and animal feed, hit all-time highs in February and Canadian supplies look to dwindle by midsummer to an eight-year low.

Spring wheat futures are trading near their highest levels since 2017, the last time significant drought gripped the northern U.S. Plains.

“I guess we seed in faith, hoping it’s going to rain,” said Steven Donald, 41, a fourth-generation member of a family-owned grain and cattle farm near Moosomin, Saskatchewan. “It’s the driest that we can remember.”

Donald’s fields are powder-dry. His pastures crunch under his boots and contain gaping cracks.

In eastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, a dry winter followed scant rainfall during the last growing season, said Bruce Burnett, director of markets and weather at Glacier FarmMedia.

Much of western Manitoba had the driest or close to the driest winter in more than a century of records, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada data. Most of arable Manitoba and southern Saskatchewan faces severe to extreme drought, the federal department said on Friday.

Many farmers are adjusting by scaling back canola plantings, said Neil Townsend, FarmLink Marketing Solutions’ chief market analyst, citing surveys. Canola is especially vulnerable to drought that can prevent seeds from germinating.

RECORD-BREAKING DRYNESS IN NORTH DAKOTA

Across the border in North Dakota, the top U.S. spring wheat producer, the last six months have been the driest in records dating to 1895, said Adnan Akyuz, the state’s official climatologist. The latest weekly U.S. Drought Monitor showed 70% of North Dakota in “extreme drought,” up from 47% the previous week.

The Drought Monitor shows a better outlook for corn and soybeans, the main U.S. cash crops, mostly grown farther south.

Rain and snow are expected in North Dakota this week, according to meteorologist Greg Gust with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But it is unlikely to amount to much relief, although showers are possible in the 16-30-day period, said Joel Widenor, agriculture meteorologist with the Commodity Weather Group. Most of the state’s wheat crop is planted in late April and May.

Statistics Canada will issue its first report on planting intentions on April 27. Farmers are likely to seed 4% more canola, mainly in northern areas with more soil moisture, Agriculture Canada said on March 18.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last month projected that North Dakota farmers would plant 7 million acres of soybeans, making it the state’s most-planted crop, while spring wheat acres would fall 2% to 5.6 million.

Soil erosion is a concern as winds whip the region, said Jim Peterson of the North Dakota Wheat Commission. As a result, wheat may lose more acres to soybeans, which farmers can plant into June without stirring up fields to apply fertilizer, he said.

Conditions are the driest that Minto, Manitoba, farmer Jake Ayre and his family have seen since emigrating to Canada from England in 2002. But most planting in the region, known for its volatile weather, occurs in May.

“We’re not panicking,” Ayre said. “My dad said, ‘We’re always three weeks away from a drought, three weeks away from a flood.'”

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Coronavirus costs climb as Europe’s farmers seek seasonal workers

By Joan Faus and Nigel Hunt

BARCELONA/LONDON (Reuters) – Fruit and vegetable harvests are underway in western Europe with seasonal workers gathering crops in top producer Spain, but costs are rising as farmers fear a third wave of COVID-19 might cause a repeat of 2020’s damaging disruptions in labor supply.

Harvests rely heavily on workers from Africa and eastern Europe, but many couldn’t travel a year ago as borders closed in the first wave of the pandemic. Shortages of key goods appeared in supermarkets while prices rose as consumers hoarded.

Coronavirus cases are surging again in Europe, raising the risk of crop losses and adding to farmers’ costs on everything from extra transport to keep workers socially distanced to buying protective gear for seasonal laborers.

In Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region, farmer Josep Cabre said he had spent about 6,000 euros ($7,000) on masks and other protective equipment for seven seasonal workers from West Africa working on his farm picking apples, pears and peaches.

“We have been lucky and, as far as we know, none of us has contracted COVID-19,” Cabre said, adding that shutting his business for 15 days could mean a 150,000 euro loss.

“A bar or shop can close for 15 days … but if I don’t pick the fruit at its right time and I do it later it would be damaged. To stop for 15 days would be an economic disaster,” he added.

Cabre tries to give workers tasks to keep them distanced. He has stopped using a nine-seat van to take them to fields near the city of Lleida, instead using several vans and reimbursing transport costs to workers who travel alone.

Lleida saw a infection cluster last summer, partially linked to migrants seeking seasonal jobs to pick fruit.

This year, thousands of workers have arrived on chartered flights from Morocco to help gather crops in Spain for the first major harvest of strawberries in the southern Huelva province.

“COVID measures have forced us to take on more people to do the same job,” Fernando Gomez of Murcia’s Proexport growers organization said, adding that a hike in Spain’s minimum wage also put pressure on margins.

TOUGHER CHECKS

Growers in Germany still expect to have enough workers from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and elsewhere for the asparagus harvest. But workers face tougher health and safety checks.

“The extensive corona-regulations and hygiene measures are creating great challenges, both organizational and financial,” Daniela Rixen, spokesperson for the LKSH agricultural chamber representing farmers in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Bernhard Kruesken, secretary general of German national farming association DBV, said normally about 300,000 seasonal harvest workers come to Germany every year but fewer are expected in 2021 for the second year running.

France needs about 1 million seasonal workers each year. Fruit and vegetable growers have been seeking to attract local students and jobless people to compensate for lower numbers of foreigners if new travel restrictions are imposed.

Last year, France raised a so-called “shadow army” to pick crops from furloughed workers in other sectors including hotel receptionists, restaurant waiters and hairdressers.

Non-European Union workers account for about 25% of seasonal workers in France.

“You never know. At any moment rules can change and borders can be closed,” Jerome Volle, deputy-chairman of France’s largest farm lobby FNSEA said.

Similar concerns are rising in Britain, which needs about 70,000 seasonal workers with the highest demand during the berry season in late May to June.

“There is a concern that European borders end up shutting down or that people can’t travel and that will put huge pressure on the availability of seasonal workers,” said Tom Bradshaw, vice president at Britain’s National Farmers Union.

In a normal year, just 1% of the seasonal workforce comes from Britain.

Despite the challenges, there is still little likelihood of fruit shortages this year, said Natalia Aguilera, head of the Andalusian chapter of the cooperativas agro-alimentarias cooperative.

“If there weren’t any (shortages) last year, complicated as it was during the pandemic, this year there is absolutely no chance,” she said.

($1 = 0.8531 euros)

(Additional reporting by Nathan Allen in Madrid, Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris and Michael Hogan in Hamburg; Editing by Veronica Brown and Edmund Blair)

Farmers fight back: Making animal feed from a locust plague

By Baz Ratner

LAIKIPIA (Reuters) – Kenya is battling some of the worst locust plagues in decades, but start-up The Bug Picture hopes to transform the pests into profits and bring “hope to the hopeless” whose crops and livelihoods are being destroyed by the insects.

Unusual weather patterns exacerbated by climate change have created ideal conditions for surging locust numbers, which have destroyed crops and grazing grounds across East Africa and the Horn.

Scientists say warmer seas are creating more rain, waking dormant eggs, and cyclones that disperse the swarms are getting stronger and more frequent.

The Bug Picture is working with communities around the area of Laikipia, Isiolo and Samburu in central Kenya to harvest the insects and mill them, turning them into protein-rich animal feed and organic fertilizer for farms.

“We are trying to create hope in a hopeless situation, and help these communities alter their perspective to see these insects as a seasonal crop that can be harvested and sold for money,” said Laura Stanford, founder of The Bug Picture.

In central Kenya’s Laikipia, clouds of locusts are devouring crops and other vegetation. The Bug Picture is targeting swarms of 5 hectares or less in inhabited areas not suitable for spraying.

Swarms can travel up to 150 km (93 miles) a day and can contain between 40-80 million locusts per square kilometer.

“They destroy all the crops when they get into the farms. Sometimes they are so many, you cannot tell them apart, which are crops and which are locusts,” said farmer Joseph Mejia.

The Bug Picture pays Mejia and his neighbors 50 Kenyan shillings ($0.4566) per kilogram of the insects. Between Feb. 1-18, the project oversaw the harvest of 1.3 tons of locusts, according to Stanford, who said she was inspired by a project in Pakistan, overseen by the state-run Pakistan Agricultural Research Council.

The locusts are collected at night by torchlight when they are resting on shrubs and trees.

“The community … are collecting locusts, once they (are collected) they are weighed and paid,” said Albert Lemasulani, a field coordinator with the start-up.

The insects are crushed and dried, then milled and processed into powder, which is used in animal feed or an organic fertilizer.

(Reporting by Baz Ratner; Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Indian govt offers to suspend farm reforms; farmers may call off protests

By Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s government on Wednesday offered to suspend implementation of three new farm laws that have triggered the biggest farmers’ protests in years, which farm union leaders said they would now consider calling off.

The cornerstone of the reform, introduced in September, allows private buyers to deal directly with farmers.

Angry farmers, who say that will make India’s traditional wholesale markets irrelevant and leave them at the mercy of big retailers and food processors, have camped out on major highways outside New Delhi for more than two months.

Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government was open to suspending the laws for up to 18 months, during which time representatives of the government and farmers should work to “provide solutions” for the industry.

Bilateral talks have so far failed to break the deadlock – landing Prime Minister Narendra Modi with one of his most significant challenges since he was re-elected in 2019.

The next round of talks is due on Friday, and farm leader Dharmendra Malik said the unions would let the government know then if they would accept the offer and call off the protests.

The government was “sympathetic to farmers’ concerns and is trying to end the stalemate,” it said in a government, thanking them for maintaining “peace and discipline” during the protests.

Farmers plan a tractor rally through New Delhi on Jan 26, India’s Republic Day, which the Supreme Court on Wednesday declined a government petition to ban.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; additional reporting by Suchitra Mohanty and Nigam Prusty; editing by John Stonestreet)

U.S. House pauses vote on bill to fund government and avoid shutdown

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives put on hold an expected Tuesday vote on a bill to fund the government through Dec. 11, while bipartisan congressional leaders discussed whether to include farm aid sought by President Donald Trump, lawmakers and aides said.

The delay “relates to numerous agriculture provisions” in the bill, one Democratic aide said. With government funding lapsing on Sept. 30, House Democrats announced Monday they had filed the stopgap funding legislation, but they angered Republicans by leaving out some farm money that Trump wanted.

The bill generally continues current spending levels, avoiding a government shutdown when funding runs out on Sept. 30. It would give lawmakers more time to work out spending through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

“At some point in the next day or two, we expect that there will be a continuing resolution on the floor that will continue the current spending agreement until December,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, who have the majority. He said he hoped it would be “bipartisan in nature.”

The version that House Democrats filed on Monday did not include $21.1 billion that the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered it a blank check for political favors. Trump had promised more farm aid during a rally in Wisconsin last week.

Republicans protested the omission, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arguing that farmers need the help.

“The talks continue, and hopefully we’ll reach an agreement,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.

A House Republican aide said Democrats had earlier walked away from an agreement that included the farm aid.

“Republicans will continue to fight for these provisions to be included,” he said.

Leaders of both parties say they are not interested in a standoff that could lead to a government shutdown, amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bernadette Baum)

House Democrats file bill to fund U.S. government but leave out new farm money

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress this week will consider legislation funding the federal government through mid-December, with lawmakers hoping to avoid the spectacle of a government shutdown amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

House Democrats announced Monday they had filed the legislation, which leaves out new money that President Donald Trump wanted for farmers. A Democratic aide said the bill could be on the House floor as soon as Tuesday. The Senate could then act later this week.

The new federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

The bill is designed to give lawmakers more time to work out federal spending for the period through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

The spending proposal “will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and keep government open until December 11, when we plan to have bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

But the measure’s December end date will require Congress to return to the government funding question again during its post-election lame-duck session, either during or after what could be a bruising fight to confirm Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

And the legislation does not include $21.1 billion the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered this a “blank check” for “political favors,” said a House Democratic aide who asked not to be named. Trump promised more farm aid during a rally in Wisconsin last week.

Republicans were not happy. “House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter. Republicans could seek to amend the document to add in the provision.

The bill proposes spending $14 billion to shore up a trust fund that pays for airport improvements and air traffic control

operations. It also proposes extending surface transportation funding for another year, directing $13.6 billion to maintain current spending levels on highways and mass transit.

Pelosi said the bill would also save America’s older citizens from an increase in Medicare health insurance premiums of up to $50 per month.

Congressional Democrats have had a stormy relationship with the White House over federal funding since Trump took office early in 2017. He has sought deep cuts in domestic spending while ramping up military funds.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

this week will consider legislation funding the federal government through mid-December, with lawmakers hoping to avoid the spectacle of a government shutdown amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

House Democrats announced Monday they had filed the legislation, which leaves out new money that President Donald Trump wanted for farmers. A Democratic aide said the bill could be on the House floor as soon as Tuesday. The Senate could then act later this week.

The new federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

The bill is designed to give lawmakers more time to work out federal spending for the period through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

The spending proposal “will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and keep government open until December 11, when we plan to have bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

But the measure’s December end date will require Congress to return to the government funding question again during its post-election lame-duck session, either during or after what could be a bruising fight to confirm Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

And the legislation does not include $21.1 billion the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered this a “blank check” for “political favors,” said a House Democratic aide who asked not to be named. Trump promised more farm aid during a rally in Wisconsin last week.

Republicans were not happy. “House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter. Republicans could seek to amend the document to add in the provision.

The bill proposes spending $14 billion to shore up a trust fund that pays for airport improvements and air traffic control

operations. It also proposes extending surface transportation funding for another year, directing $13.6 billion to maintain current spending levels on highways and mass transit.

Pelosi said the bill would also save America’s older citizens from an increase in Medicare health insurance premiums of up to $50 per month.

Congressional Democrats have had a stormy relationship with the White House over federal funding since Trump took office early in 2017. He has sought deep cuts in domestic spending while ramping up military funds.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)