Agriculture in Europe and the United States may be diverging even more sharply in coming years. The European Union has adopted a series of sweeping goals for slashing the use of pesticides, antibiotics and fertilizer – and converting at least 25% of EU agriculture to organic over the next decade. 

The 2030 goals are to cut in half the nutrient losses from farmland, the use of more hazardous pesticides and the use of antibiotics in farm animals.

Keep in mind: Less than 8% of EU farmland was organic as of 2018. 

Why it matters: USDA this year launched an initiative to halve the "environmental footprint" of U.S. agriculture by 2050 - 20 years later than the EU targets -  while increasing production by 40%.

The USDA effort is focused on reducing carbon emissions and improving water quality and is guided by the concept of “sustainable intensification.” That broadly means producing more food without using more land and other resources, and that will require increased use of technology and precision agriculture. 

Purdue University economist Jayson Lusk says the EU policy appears to be focused on reducing inputs rather than achieving outcomes such as lower carbon emissions, better water quality and reducing food insecurity (the aims of the USDA initiative). “It seems the politically popular actions are prioritized over those that are actually most sustainable according to scientific outcome measurement,” he said.

Take note: The EU policy also calls for all rural areas to have high-speed internet service by 2025. 

Kudlow: China ‘phase one’ deal in good shape

 The Chinese are importing U.S. ag and other goods a bit slower than originally hoped for, but the “phase one” trade pact is still being successfully implemented, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Thursday.

“I guess the Chinese purchases are a little behind, but I think that’s more because of poor economic and market conditions … and China has every intent of implementing (phase one),” Kudlow said in a live-streamed Washington Post interview.

Kudlow also addressed recent speculation that China is looking to renegotiate the trade pact, saying that’s not happening. “At the present time … there’s no renegotiating at all,” he said. “We’re looking for steady implementation and we’ll be monitoring it very closely.”

Keep in mind: The U.S. Trade Representative and USDA released a statement the same day, listing recent implementation successes such as China’s agreement to lift import bans on U.S. blueberries and barley.

China also has opened up to almond meal pellets and cubes. Producers are grateful, says Julie Adams, a vice president for the Almond Board of California, but it won’t make up for overall losses in trade due to Chinese tariffs on the nuts. Almond shipments to China fell by 25% last year and are down 20% so far this year, she tells Agri-Pulse.

A strong week for US soybean sales to China

China may be lagging a bit when it comes to its promised ag purchases, but U.S. soybean sales to the country were very strong from May 8 through May 14, according to the latest USDA data.

The department reported sales of about 1.2 million metric tons of U.S. soybeans to China for the seven-day period. That includes 734,400 tons for 2019-20 delivery and 462,000 tons for 2020-21.

Pressure builds to ease PPP

Lawmakers are moving toward a deal to provide some relief to small businesses, including farms, that are using the Paycheck Protection Program. 

Under existing rules, PPP loans are forgivable only if 75% of the funds are used to pay workers over an eight-week period. House Democrats have agreed to consider a standalone bill that would extend that period and also ease the 75% payroll requirement. 

Some fruit and vegetable growers are among the employers who are seeking an extension of the wage period. Sean Gilbert, a Washington fruit grower, said the eight-week period on his PPP loan will end just as he starts harvesting cherries. 

The PPP “time limit is very restrictive,” Gilbert said on a Farm Credit webinar Thursday. Some 60% of his orchard expenses are labor and half of his packing expenses. 

Notable: An executive with a high-end New Orleans restaurant group, Steve Pettus, warned a House subcommittee Thursday that he’ll have to lay off hundreds of workers if Congress doesn’t extend the loans. “We are not asking for more money, we’re just asking for more time,” Pettus said.  

A coalition of foodservice companies, including US Foods and Performance Food Group, also is appealing to Congress for a 24-week extension. 

USDA provides relief on farm loans

Farmers with USDA farm loans will be eligible to skip their payment this year if they’ve been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The Farm Service Agency is invoking a Disaster Set-Aside provision normally reserved for natural disasters. 

The skipped payment will get tacked to the end of an ownership loan, and an operating loan can be extended for a year, says Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which advocated for the FSA action. 

USDA praised for Food Box oversight pledge

The United Fresh Produce Association is applauding USDA’s “serious commitment to oversight” of its Farmers to Families Food Box program, which has been hit with criticism for some of the awards it has given out.

Responding to a letter from USDA that answered a series of questions from United Fresh about the program, President and CEO Tom Stenzel said “we should all now focus on how wonderfully the program is proceeding in many cities and rural areas of the country. 

“Produce companies and their partners are bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to those in need and making a difference in people’s lives.”

Take note: The Agricultural Marketing Service has terminated a $40 million contract to California Avocados Direct, which was working to assemble produce boxes, reported. The company didn’t immediately respond to Agri-Pulse on Thursday. 

She said it. “People need to eat, and with this pandemic it’s made people realize that it is good to buy local and to buy American product, because that’s what’s going to be there to help people through.” - New Mexico onion grower Savannah Gillis Turner, speaking on the Farm Credit webinar.

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