With help from Matthew Choi

— Democrats are pushing to pass a major social spending package before the 2022 elections, but they’re struggling to agree on a price-tag and a timeline that won’t hurt their political campaigns in battleground districts, including in Iowa and other farm-states.

— September’s jobs report showed very little growth across sectors including food, but President Joe Biden predicts a decline in Covid-19 cases will lead to an improved report in the future.

— U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai met with her Chinese counterpart on Friday to discuss Beijing’s obligations under the Phase One trade deal, including ag purchases, among other issues.

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DEMS FRET 2022 CONSEQUENCES FROM SPENDING PACKAGE: The timeline and final price tag of the current $3.5 trillion social spending package remains a “political hot potato” for lawmakers ahead of the 2022 elections, report POLITICO’s Sarah Ferris and Marianne LeVine.

The political angle: As liberals and centrists offer competing pitches on the size and scope of the president’s mammoth spending plan, many Democrats insist they aren’t focused on the political stakes of Biden’s agenda. But with Biden’s approval rating slipping, Democrats across the map privately concede that achieving the president’s two major priorities will be crucial to maintaining their majorities in Congress as they stare down an all-but-impossible House map and can’t afford to lose a single seat in the Senate.

Hands off ag, climate provisions: Regular MA readers may recall that last week, lawmakers including House Ag Dems and Democratic senators are pushing to preserve the agriculture and climate portions of the package from the incoming cuts.

Related: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), one of the key senators looking to lower the cost of the package, is reportedly seeking to cut billions of dollars in climate funding. The sharp turn from her political origins as a climate activist and member of the Green party comes as Arizona faces extreme heat and drought, The New York Times reports. Sinema’s office disputed the Times’ reporting that the senator proposed slashing $100 billion from climate programs in the bill.

THE FOOD SECTOR’S WEAK JOBS GROWTH: The Labor Department’s September jobs report showed only 194,000 new jobs were created last month, far fewer than originally predicted, report Pro’s Rebecca Rainey and Megan Cassella. The slow growth suggests that the end of expanded federal unemployment benefits may not have been enough to drive a significant number of people back into the labor force.

In the food sector: Employment in food services and drinking places was little changed for the second consecutive month, according to the jobs report released Friday. Employment in leisure and hospitality overall is still down by 1.6 million jobs, or 9.4 percent, since February 2020.

Separately, employment in retail trade rose by 56,000 jobs in September, following two months of little change. But within that category, employment in food and beverage stores declined by 12,000.

Biden’s pitch: The president touted the report as another sign that his administration has delivered steady month-over-month job growth, and he blamed the disappointing overall number partly on the fact that the survey was taken before a recent decline in Covid cases.

“Remember, today’s report is based on a survey that was taken during the week of September 13th … when Covid cases were averaging more than 150,000 per day,” Biden said on Friday. “Since then, we’ve seen the daily cases fall by more than one-third, and they’re continuing to trend down.”

TAI TALKS TRADE WITH CHINA: The U.S. trade chief held her first set of talks with her Chinese counterpart on Friday and raised concerns over Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian market behavior, as well as its failure to fulfill existing trade commitments, writes Pro Trade’s Steven Overly.

Ag lagging: Beijing pledged as part of the two-year Phase One deal, which was signed in January 2020, to buy an additional $200 billion in U.S. goods by the end of this year. An analysis from the Peterson Institute for International Economics shows China is not on track to fulfill that promise, even though it has ramped up purchases of agricultural goods.

Other U.S. officials like Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack have recently voiced concern over China’s inability to meet its import targets (he estimated that China is about $5 billion behind on its obligations for farm goods and other products this year) and the need to still resolve non-tariff related barriers, namely biotechnology trade approvals.

Phase One and done: One thing that’s assuredly off the table is a “Phase Two” deal to address China’s industrial subsidies and other structural economic issues. That was a central goal of Trump administration trade officials — and a priority for some agricultural groups — but Biden’s team appears skeptical about persuading China to change those policies.

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GRANHOLM BACKS UP BIOFUEL SUPPORT: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is sticking to her vocal support for the biofuels industry, after she told ag industry publication Brownfield last month she didn’t think EPA would reduce the annual blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard. “I know that’s what EPA is considering right now, but I don’t want to see anything that will hurt the biorefining industry,” Granholm said, per our Pro Energy colleagues, who caught up with the secretary Friday in Georgia as she hit the road to make the case for Biden’s clean energy plans.

VILSACK KEEPS IT LOCAL: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is sticking around the Beltway today with a visit to Riverdale Elementary School in Prince George’s County, Md., to discuss access to healthy and nutritious food. Vilsack will tour the public school during lunch service and talk with parents, school officials and nutrition professionals.

Later in the afternoon, Vilsack will tour ECO City Farms, a nonprofit farm in Prince George’s County focused on educating urban farmers and consumers.

NEW USDA FUNDS FOR HISPANIC-SERVING INSTITUTIONS: The Agriculture Department on Friday announced a $12 million investment in Hispanic-serving Institutions of higher education, as part of an effort to “advance scientific research, develop future agricultural leaders and, we hope, cultivate the next generation of USDA employees,” Vilsack said in an announcement on Friday.

The funding will go toward institutions in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Puerto Rico and Texas, USDA said. It’s aimed at helping the schools attract, retain and graduate underrepresented students pursuing careers in agriculture, natural resources and human sciences.

— A new partnership aimed at increasing diversity in agriculture was announced on Monday by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Society for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences. Take a look here.

— Two dozen countries have joined a campaign led by the EU and U.S. to cut methane emissions (an effort that does not include reducing meat consumption). POLITICO Europe’s Zia Weise reports.

— Winemakers in California’s Napa Valley are turning to carbon farming amid worsening drought, extreme heat and wildfires. The Washington Post has more.

— CBS’ 60 Minutes takes a look at Deep Springs College in California, where a rigorous college curriculum is combined with daily farming and ranching duties.

— Drought affected many crops across the country this year, including oats, which could lead to higher prices for the most popular breakfast products like Cheerios, granola bars and oat milk. Bloomberg has the story.

— On a related note, the CEO of Kraft Heinz is warning that consumers might need to get used to higher food prices worldwide. More from the BBC.

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