Sonny Perdue confirmed as next Secretary of Agriculture

Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture “The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) thanks Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken for voting for Governor Sonny Perdue’s confirmation as the next U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary of Agriculture,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “Secretary Perdue is a needed voice for agriculture as the new administration addresses issues like trade, regulatory reform, agriculture labor and the next farm bill. We look forward to working with the new Secretary to address issues facing Minnesota farmers and ranchers.”

Secretary of Agriculture

A late-afternoon confirmation vote on Monday means Sonny Perdue is finally Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Agriculture. (photo from the washingtonpost.com)

“Now that we have our Secretary of Agriculture in place, we look forward to getting down to business to address serious issues that the Secretary has committed to working on as well as filling other key roles in the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said Paap.

 

Minnesota Farm Bureau – Farmers ● Families ● Food is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureau associations across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public. Programs for young farmers and ranchers develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children. Join Farm Bureau today and support efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, www.fbmn.org.

 

For more information on the Minnesota Farm Bureau log onto www.fbmn.org, www.Facebook.com/MNFarmBureau or www.Twitter.com/MNFarmBureau.

What’s next regarding NAFTA?

American agriculture will have a hard time succeeding without a solid trading relationship with other countries. Now that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is off the table, new President Donald Trump and his administration are now turning their attention to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It’s the first time an administration took a serious look at renegotiating at least parts of the deal since it was signed during the Clinton administration.

NAFTA, Free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico

The Trump Administration still has a goal of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico in an attempt to make it more favorable for America. (photo from CNN Money)

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture recently held their winter policy conference in Washington, D.C., and trade was one of the biggest topics of conversation. Nathan Bowen is the Director of Public Policy at NASDA. He says that NAFTA has been a very good thing for agriculture for a long time.

“U.S. agriculture depends on export opportunities for our livelihood,” Bowen said. “With the new administration, there’s a lot of talk about what’s going to happen on the international trade front.”

Bowen says NAFTA has been very important for U.S. farmers and ranchers, who depend on the markets in Canada and Mexico for significant parts of their livelihood. NASDA wants to make sure as the administration looks at redoing NAFTA, agriculture has a place at the table.

“We are working to make sure that agriculture keeps the gains they’ve made under NAFTA,” Bowen said, “and that we do take opportunities that are there to strengthen the agreement. Farmers send a whole range of commodities to markets in both Canada and Mexico.”

He says NAFTA has been good for a whole list of Ag sectors, including beef. U.S. beef exports to Mexico and Canada have almost tripled since the beginning of the agreement. It was a little over $600 million dollars back in 1994, rising to $1.9 billion as recently as 2015.

“The access that U.S. beef has enjoyed in both of those markets has really been important for the industry,” Bowen adds. “The same could be said for corn, with significant gains in that sector, and pork is another really good success story.”

Bowen adds that there really isn’t a timeline for negotiations between the three countries to begin but he’s hopeful it will start as soon as possible so that agriculture will know where it stands with market access to Canada and Mexico.

Here’s the complete conversation with Bowen:

Farm Bureau President Duvall Talks Ag Issues

The 98th American Farm Bureau annual convention is going on this week in Phoenix, Arizona. Once a year, Farm Bureau members come together in one location to learn and talk about the future of agriculture. Farm Bureau voting delegates will also debate policy and put together the Farm Bureau policy platform on important Ag issues for the coming year.

Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall talks Ag issues

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall addresses reporters during a press conference at the 98th Farm Bureau annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona. (photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

Farm Bureau President and Georgia farmer Zippy Duvall spoke to reporters on Sunday during a press conference in Phoenix, tackling several issues important to agriculture. One of the first questions dealt with the lengthy search for the next Secretary of Agriculture. Duvall wanted the candidate selected a little quicker, although he seems encouraged by the fact that the Trump team has interviewed a good number of excellent candidates. What happens if the President-elect would happen to pick someone who doesn’t have an extensive Ag background?

“At this point, I’m not worried,” Duvall said, “I have full faith in the new president picking the right person. He’s looked at many different people, a lot more than we expected him to look at. We just think he’s doing a thorough review.”

 

 

As far as the reason it’s taken so long? Duvall said he honestly isn’t sure and anything he would add is speculation. “I’m honestly not sure whether he’s had people who just weren’t interested,” Duvall said, “or whether he’s had so many good candidates he can’t really pick which one he wants.”

 

 

 

One of Trump’s main talking points in the campaign was building a wall along the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico to help control illegal immigration. A good number of those same immigrants are vital to agriculture getting its work done every year. Immigration will be one of the biggest ag issues the Farm Bureau will keep an eye on in 2017. Duvall is hoping some kind of compromise on immigration can be reached so agriculture isn’t short on labor, especially at harvest time.

 

“If you look at the increase in H2A applications over the last few years,” Duvall said, “we’ve had a tremendous increase in that area. The demand for workers is there and we also know that the American people aren’t going to do that work, otherwise, they already would have started.”

 

 

 

He adds, “We want to give them an opportunity to stay here and work. It comes down to a moral and a safety issue. Their families are here and we have to do the right thing.”

 

 

 

Trade will be another of the biggest ag issues to keep an eye on this year. One of the biggest concerns agriculture has with the incoming president is his stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and trade agreements in general. Duvall says after talking with the Trump team, the President-elect has a better understanding of how important trade is to agriculture.

 

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to sit down with the Trump team and talk about the workings of a trade treaty that is friendly to agriculture,” Duvall said. “My discussions with the Trump team before the election went like this: ‘we’re concerned about Mr. Trump’s opinion on trade.’ That’s what we told them. He seems to be negative on trade  and agriculture is very dependent on it for up to 30% of our income.”

 

 

 

“This won’t be the first time a new president appeared to put us (Ag) at risk,” Duvall added. “Yes, we are nervous about that (trade wars). We do want America to stand up and have a backbone, but you have to be really careful about how you do that because you could destroy our industry if you don’t do it right.”

 

He added, “We’re there at the table trying to have those conversations.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ag has trade questions for the new administration

Let’s go ahead and talk trade headlines from the latest edition of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting News Service headlines:

Trump Election Leaves Agriculture Awaiting Clarification on Issues

rabobank-logo-squircle-jpgA new report from Rabobank says the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States has the food and agriculture sector awaiting clarification on his policies and positions. The Rabobank Food and Agribusiness Research and Advisory group authored the report on the possible implications of the election. Rabobank analysts say Republican-controlled Executive and Legislative branches could “mean swift action when the new administration takes office.” Rabobank notes the advisory group is watching trade, labor and farm bill talks for potential policy changes that could have longer-term implications on the industry. The report says while President-elect Trump’s policies are yet to be clearly defined, his statements during the campaign suggest drastic changes from current policy could be on the horizon. Finally, the report predicts agriculture markets may be impacted by foreign exchange volatility in the short term as Trump takes office in January.

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New Zealand Wants to Talk Trade with Trump

Trade

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key wants to talk trade with President-elect Donald Trump as he prepares to take office in 2017.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key wants to talk trade issues with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. In a phone call between the two this week, Key told Trump he wished to talk further about trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Key told Radio New Zealand that TPP was “worthy of a much fuller discussion,” adding that Trump needs the chance to get a proper assessment before seeing how “we can move things forward.” The Prime Minister said Trump was not rejecting the notion. New Zealand indicated the nation would give the new U.S. administration time to fully consider its trade agenda. That comes after New Zealand’s Parliament approved legislation last week allowing the nation to join TPP, despite the likelihood the trade deal will not proceed.

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Canada Cattle Producers urge Trade Fight if Trump Revives COOL

country-of-originCattle producers from Canada will urge the nation to retaliate against the United States, should U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump revive the U.S. Country-of-Origin meat labeling program (COOL). An internal memo within Trump’s transition team detailed how the new administration would immediately initiate changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, according to Reuters. That could include measures on COOL, which would reignite a six-year trade battle between the U.S. and Canada. U.S. lawmakers repealed COOL last December after the World Trade Organization approved more than $10 billion in trade retaliations by Canada. Canadian Cattlemen’s Association spokesperson John Masswohl says: “We’re watching, and if we think it discriminates against our cattle, our recommendation is going to be that tariffs go into place immediately.” However, he added that until it’s clear how Trump might approach COOL, no action is necessary.

One of the bigger post-election questions is the North American Free Trade Agreement. President-elect Trump feels it needs to be renegotiated with Canada and Mexico. Cuba is another country that agriculture groups want to open up to free trade opportunities. A group of US farmers and congressmen went to Cuba to lobby for agricultural trade about a year ago:

Grains Council Encourages Focus On Expanding Ag Exports

Grain exports are a bright spot in the current farm economy and can grow even further through outreach to the 95 percent of the world’s consumers who live outside U.S. borders, leaders of the U.S. Grains Council said at the at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) convention this week in Kansas City.

US Grains Council Trade Exports

The US Grains Council says American farmers are producing another record grain crop and with 95 percent of the world’s population outside the US, it’ll take trade opportunities to move that product.

As newly-elected national leaders prepare to take office, Chairman Chip Councell, a farmer from Maryland, and President and CEO Tom Sleight told reporters that strong trade policies and robust overseas market development are critical to helping farmers seize these opportunities for growth and greater profitability.

The United States is on track to produce a record amount of corn this year according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data out this week, with record exports also expected for feed grains in all forms, a measure that includes corn, sorghum and barley as well as products made with these grains like beef, pork, poultry and ethanol.

U.S. corn exports in September of this year increased 89 percent, to 6.3 million metric tons (248 million bushels), from year ago levels, with shipments to Japan, South Korea, Peru and Taiwan more than doubling. (See more analysis here.)

“Ag exports count for our farmer and agribusiness members and are counted on by customers who rely on the United States for a reliable supply of high-quality commodities and food products. Sales overseas are a bright spot in an otherwise tough ag economy and are something we can all work toward together,” Sleight said.

Though it now seems highly unlikely to get a vote in Congress, the Council also voiced support for the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as an opportunity to reduce tariffs, address vexing non-tariff challenges to U.S. market share and build a platform for future multilateral trade pacts.

“Regardless of the future of TPP, after this election cycle that has made so many here and abroad question the United States’ commitment to open trade, we urge our leadership to champion trade policies and the farm policy programs that help us develop the markets they offer,” he said.

“Doing so will not just help ensure farmer profitability but also help to restore faith in ag trade’s contribution to global food security and our country’s national security.”

The Council is an export market development organization for U.S. corn, sorghum, barley and related products including ethanol and distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS), operating programs in more than 50 countries with the support of farmer and agribusiness members as well as funds from the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Agriculture wants Cuban trade embargo to end

Cuba-US relations thawing?

The first step in a long process that may end the 54 year old Cuban trade embargo with the US may have taken place last year. The debate over officially ending the embargo is expected to heat up soon (Photo from wptv.com)

A major market for American agricultural products lies 90 miles off the coast of Florida. However, thanks to a 54-year-old American embargo against Cuba, it’s very difficult for products to move back and forth between countries.

The first step in thawing relations between the two countries may have happened December 17 of last year. President Obama announced he would begin efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. Agriculture groups across the country took notice of a potential opportunity to expand exports to a country of 11 million people.

“What if corn exports to Cuba went from 137,000 tons to 900,000 tons?” Erick Erickson is Vice President of the US Grain Council, and said normalization would be a great opportunity for agriculture, and for Cuba as well.

“It’s got to be more cheap for Cuba to buy from America too,” said Erickson.  “You can almost pack it in grocery bags and carry it across the water because it’s so close. It’s got to be cheaper than buying from overseas.”

Erick Erickson

Erick Erickson of the US Grains Council is in favor of ending the US Trade embargo with Cuba, and feels the opportunities for agricultural trade would be a boon for US producers (Photo from grains.org

Ag groups have been working on getting the embargo lifted for a long time.

“There’s a lot of controversy about the embargo,” said Erickson. “We didn’t do it with the Soviet Union, we didn’t do it with China, and other countries we’ve had issues with.”

Said Erickson, “The position of the US Grains Council is that removing trade barriers is good. Without trying to weigh in on all the other complicating issues, actions that remove trade barriers and open up the marketplace to work are a good thing for both sides of the equation.”

One of the newer groups formed to work on this issue is the US Ag Coalition for Cuba (USACC). The group is made up of more than 25 agribusiness groups from around the country, and their goal is a simple one: to urge repeal of the 1996 law that made permanent the sanctions on Cuba.

The US Ag Coalition for Cuba held a press conference on January 8 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to announce their formation.

“Through the formation of the USACC, we are re-energized,” said Devry Boughner Vorwerk, the USACC Chair. “We are re-energized to establish Cuba as a market for US food and agriculture products, and as an industry, we are re-energized to end the embargo.”

“The sanctions hurt the Cuban people, and harmful to our country,” said Vorwerk, the Director of International Relations for Cargill. “54 years of unilateral sanctions is an experiment that’s gone on too long. It’s a failed policy, and it’s time our two countries had a better option.”

US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at the press conference. He said President Obama’s announcement represents an opportunity for Cuban residents to gain control over their own lives.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at the US Ag Coalition for Cuba press conference, announcing major ag group’s intentions of pressing for the end of the US Trade Embargo with Cuba. The conference was covered by C-Span (photo from foodproductiondaily.org)

“It’s also an opportunity for America’s farmers and ranchers to sell goods in Cuba,” said Vilsack. “We’re removing some technical barriers between US and Cuban companies, and creating a far more efficient, and less burdensome, opportunity to buy US agricultural products.”

Said Vilsack, “Cuba imports roughly 80 percent of its food, which means there is significant economic potential for our producers. It’s a 1.7 billion dollar market.”

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon also spoke at the USACC press conference, and said American farmers face an uneven playing field when talking about Cuba.

“Because of current sanctions, American producers can only interact with Cuba through a complicated process that greatly limits our ability to sell goods,” said Governor Nixon. “It also stifles our ability to create jobs here, and bring more dollars home.”

Kansas Senator Jerry Moran spoke at the press conference, and said the US Sanctions haven’t worked, and it’s time for a change.

“In Kansas, we’ll try something once,” said Moran. “We don’t always expect it to be successful the first time. Kansans have enough common sense to know if you try something for 54 years, it’s time for something different.

If the goal is for the United States to change the relationship between Cuban citizens and their government, what we’ve been doing has not worked. It hasn’t worked because it’s unilateral. When we don’t trade with Cuba, it’s not that they’re not getting agricultural commodities. They’re getting them from somewhere else.”

The fight to normalize trade relations with Cuba will not be an easy one. Secretary Vilsack said the President has done all he can, and it’s time to engage Congress in the debate.

Erick Erickson, the VP of the National Grains Council, said, “The teeth of the embargo are congressionally mandated, so it’s not clear what Congress will do. Some in Congress have said this is a good idea, and some have said it’s a bad idea.”

Said Erickson, “The question is, will Congress decide they want to do anything to oppose this? Maybe they will, or maybe not. This is probably a long-term process the President has started, and it may not be done before he leaves office.”