Former California Lieutenant Gov. Abel Maldonado Jr. is set to interview for the U.S. secretary of Agriculture post with President-elect Donald Trump this week. He joins Elsa Murano, former Agriculture undersecretary for food safety and former president of Texas A&M, as the latest candidates the new administration is exploring for the position, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a transition briefing Wednesday. Spicer told reporters Wednesday the president-elect may fill two more cabinet posts before the upcoming holiday weekend, but did not indicate which positions those might be. Agriculture secretary is the only cabinet position Trump has not named, except for Veterans Affairs secretary
The U.S. Trade Representative is planning a public hearing in mid-February to consider possibly reinstating punitive trade measures against the European Union over the EU's ban on beef grown with certain hormone implants. The hearing starts the process of possibly imposing punitive tariffs on as much as $116.8 million on imports from the EU. USTR is taking such actions even as the Obama administration is preparing to leave and President-elect Donald Trump has yet to name a U.S. trade ambassador to oversee the agency. Nonetheless, the USTR set a Feb. 15 date for a hearing at the request of the beef industry earlier this month.
The World Trade Organization has ruled in favor of the U.S. and New Zealand against Indonesia’s restrictions on its imports of fruits, vegetables and meats. The restrictions cost about $115 million in U.S. agricultural exports to Indonesia in 2015, including $28 million worth of apples and more than $29 million worth of grapes. Prior to restrictions begun in 2012, Indonesia was a 2.7-million-box per year Washington apple market, Powers said. Since then, it’s 1 million boxes lower but could grow that back and expand in the future with restrictions lifted, he said.One million, 40-pound boxes of apples are worth roughly $20 million.“We think it has incredible potential. It has a large population. They enjoy Red Delicious and other varieties, like higher-value products and don’t have their own supply,” Powers said. China, New Zealand, Chile and other apple exporters have also been hindered by the same restrictions but will be out from under them, making the market competitive, he said.
There is a battle going on in the organic industry over hydroponics, the technique of growing plants without soil. The debate gets at the very heart of what it means to be “organic” and may change the organic food available to grocery store shoppers. To be labeled as organic, fruits and vegetables are required to be grown without genetic modification or synthetic chemicals, and to meet other rules set out by the Agriculture Department. But what about produce that isn’t grown in the dirt?Hydroponic growing operations circulate a nutrient-rich fluid commonly called compost tea, which contains all of the nutrients produce needs to grow – no soil needed. Many hydroponic farmers contend their system protects soil by not even using it. If they grow produce without the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides barred in organic production, they say, they should be allowed to market their goods as organic.That’s a problem for many farmers who say soil is the essential ingredient for organic production. Many organic farmers say that from its very inception, organic farming was built on nurturing soil health. And some are worried that cheaper produce harvested year-round from hydroponic farms in warehouses will undercut organic prices.At its core, this argument is one of many popping up as the $43 billion organic industry explodes in popularity. Other organic dilemmas about the definition of organic seafood, the size of organic farms and the creation of an industry group for lobbying and research have threatened to upend the burgeoning industry.
Canada’s trade minister says the world-leading trade relationship between Canada and the United States does not need to be on U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s list of things to fix once he takes office. Chrystia Freeland told The Canadian Press last week the trade relationship between the U.S. and Canada “is very balanced and mutually beneficial.”Freeland visited Washington earlier this month and met with some senior Trump advisers and Republican senators, including Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts. Her message was to remind a new Congress and administration in Washington, D.C. the $2.4 billion a day that crosses the 49th parallel is good for both countries. Nine million Americans depend directly on exports to Canada, while 35 states have Canada as their top customer, according to Freeland.
Peter Navarro, an outspoken critic of China and U.S. trade policy who advised President-elect Donald Trump during his campaign, will lead a newly established National Trade Council in the White House. Navarro's criticism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other aspects of trade policy is in line with Trump's nominee for commerce secretary, private-equity investor Wilbur Ross, who a transition spokesman said this week would play a major role in directing Trump's trade agenda. Navarro, who teaches economics at the University of California, Irvine, is the author of “Death by China,” a book strongly critical of the Asian nation. The former Democrat ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1996 and spoke at the Democratic national convention that year. In a joint Wall Street Journal op-ed on Oct. 25, Navarro and Ross pushed back at critics of Trump's trade policy who said he was risking a trade war. “This is an alarmist misread of the bargaining table in trade negotiations. "Most of America's $766 billion annual trade deficit in goods is with a few countries, all of which need our markets far more than we need theirs, including China, Germany, Japan, Mexico and South Korea.”
More than 167,000 U.S. farms locally produced and sold food through direct marketing practices, resulting in $8.7 billion in revenue in 2015, according to the results from the first Local Food Marketing Practices Survey released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The report results cover both fresh and value-added foods, such as meat and cheese. Farms selling food directly to institutions and intermediates, such as wholesalers who locally branded the product or food hubs, brought in the most revenue at $3.4 billion. The next category, at $3 billion in sales, was from approximately 115,000 operations with direct-to-consumer sales, such as on-farm stores and farmers markets. Sales directly to retailers were $2.3 billion from over 23,000 operations nationwide.The top five states by value of total direct food sales were:California, $2,869 million, Michigan, $459 million, New York, $441 million, Pennsylvania, $439 million, Wisconsin, $431 million. Most farms selling directly to consumers sold through outlets such as farmers markets and on-farm stores. Pennsylvania led the U.S. in the number of farms selling directly to consumers, with more than 6,000 operations engaged in direct to consumer sales. California led in sales, earning $467 million. Only 8 percent of farms selling directly to consumers across the nation did so via online marketplaces, though 73 percent of all farms using direct marketing practices had internet access last year.
Mississippi River Basin states should be given a chance to address nutrient pollution first, before the federal government steps in, a federal court ruled. “EPA's ‘policy' of partnering with the states and maintaining a states-in-the-first-instance approach is . . . an integral part of the (Clean Water Act) as enacted by Congress,” U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey said in his opinion, issued Dec. 15. Lead plaintiff in the lawsuit was the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), which was joined by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Iowa Environmental Council, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Sierra Club and others. They sought an order from the court that would force EPA to adopt numeric water quality criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus in the 10 Mississippi River Basin states. On the other side of the lawsuit was EPA, along with dozens of farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, Agricultural Retailers Association, 15 state farm bureaus and a collection of commodity-specific organizations. EPA worked with states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to develop a TMDL - Total Maximum Daily Load - with specific pollution reduction targets. Farm groups failed to get the federal courts to overturn the EPA program.Steen said the latest decision “isn't likely to be the end of the road - at least not for many years. But the agricultural community and the states in the Mississippi River Basin should take this opportunity to redouble our efforts to ensure the best practices are in place to demonstrate, when the next round of petitions and lawsuits come, that we are all doing our part for water quality.”
The U.S. Trade Representative has taken two more steps in the long, laborious process of trying to persuade the People’s Republic of China to abide by the rules of the WTO on the levels of support it can provide for wheat, corn and rice and on imports of those crops. The USTR requested the formation of a World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel to hear arguments on why China should reduce those levels of support. It also challenged the way China administers tariff rate quotas for grain imports.Although China’s internal prices for wheat, corn and rice are significantly higher than world prices, the USTR and U.S. commodity organizations say China’s administering of the tariff rate quotas is so unreasonable that U.S. and other exporting countries with lower prices are unable to make full use of the TRQs. Ward said it could take as many as two or three months to set up a panel, and that a report from that panel could take another 10 months. “We knew from the outset this was a long process, which is why keeping things moving forward is important.” Ward said China provides import licenses under the TRQs contrary to several of China's WTO commitments and in a manner that effectively acts as import restrictions prohibiting the fulfillment of these TRQs.
Last week, FDA issued a final rule to establish a user fee program for a voluntary accreditation program under Food Safety Mondernization Act, which established a voluntary program to accredit third-party certification bodies, or auditors, to conduct food safety audits of foreign food entities and certify that foreign food facilities and food produced by such facilities meet applicable FDA food safety requirements. The final rule provides for a reimbursement, or user-fee, program to assess fees and require reimbursement for the work the agency performs to establish and administer the third-party certification program. FDA will notify the public of the fee schedule annually. The fee notice will be made publicly available prior to the beginning of the fiscal year for which the fees apply, except for the first fiscal year in which this regulation is effective. Each new fee schedule will be adjusted for inflation and improvements in the estimates of the cost to FDA of performing relevant work for the upcoming year.