President Donald Trump is expected to announce policy changes today that will accelerate federal environmental reviews, a major concern for some livestock producers. 

When proposed in January, cattle and sheep producers praised the Trump administration for moving to shorten the time frame to complete reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The review process is important to producers for renewals of term grazing permits, and approval of range improvements and participation in some USDA programs.

"We're really excited to hear about the final rule and are looking forward to making some progress on NEPA," said Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of the Public Lands Council. "I imagine you're going to see significant retention" of the substance in the proposal, in the final rule.

The administration proposed time limits of one year for environmental assessments and two years for environmental impact statements. 

Environmentalists panned the proposal. An official with the Western Watersheds Project said it “aims to shield bad decisions from public scrutiny by narrowly defining when NEPA applies, increasing the use of categorical exclusions, eliminating opportunities for the public to weigh in on environmental assessments, and creating roadblocks to judicial review.”

China makes record US corn purchase

There is a new reason for some continued optimism when it comes to the “phase one” trade deal with China. The USDA on Tuesday announced the largest ever export sale of U.S. corn to China.

“We’ve always believed the demand is there,” U.S. Grains Council President and CEO Ryan LeGrand told Agri-Pulse. “They have been suffering from African swine fever, but they’re ringing the bell on these corn purchases.”

The new sale comes on the heels of Chinese contracts that were announced Friday to buy 1.365 million tons of U.S. corn, 600,000 tons of which was a new crop purchase. The two purchases, plus another contract for 202,000 tons announced Monday, make China the No. 1 customer for new-crop corn, LeGrand said.

Trump prevails over ag groups in Texas 13

Former White House physician Ronny Jackson on Tuesday easily defeated cattle industry official Josh Winegarner for the GOP nomination in Texas' heavily Republican 13th congressional district. Jackson had President Trump's support, while the Texas Farm Bureau and other ag groups were backing Winegarner.

The district ranks seventh nationally in ag production. 

Biden enviro plans enlist farmers

Joe Biden proposed a $2 trillion environmental plan that includes a broad proposal to provide financial assistance to farmers to carry out climate-friendly practices. The plan also calls for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, obviously modeled after Frank Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. 

He also wants to create a new climate research agency, whose priorities would include developing ways for “decarbonizing” U.S. agriculture. 

Tucked into the plan is a promise to implement new protections for farmworkers, including “overtime, humane living conditions, and protection from pesticide and heat exposure.”

Read more about the plan here

Textile industry needs help, too, senators say

A bipartisan group of 18 senators is appealing to Senate leaders to include aid for the beleaguered U.S. textile industry in the upcoming coronavirus relief package. 

Textile mills are struggling in much the same way as some farmers and food companies who lost major sales to food service. Clothing sales have fallen globally due to the pandemic. U.S. clothing sales dropped 67% from March through May. 

“The collapse in cotton demand is being felt across the U.S. cotton industry farm textile manufacturers to merchandisers to cotton producers, and all segments in between,” the senators say in a letter to Senate leaders. 

The National Cotton Council is seeking aid for both textile mills and cotton merchandisers. 

For more on the various ag issues in play as the Senate crafts its coronavirus relief bill, read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter. 

Supermarket prices up again in June

Grocery prices rose for the sixth straight month in June, driven in part by higher meat prices. Food costs are up by the largest amount for a 12-month period since 2011, according to the June Consumer Price Index

But the 0.7% increase was the lowest since February and down from 1% in April and 2.6% in March. Beef prices rose 4.8% in June and are up 20.4% over the last three months. Prices for cereals and bakery products and for fruits and vegetables both rose 0.4%. Prices for dairy products fell 0.4%, the first such decline since July 2019. 

Beef prices are up 25.1% over the last 12 months.

Report: Few states have COVID-19 farmworker protections

Most states have not issued any guidance for how to protect farmworkers from the coronavirus, according to a new analysis from the Environmental Working Group.

Only eight states, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin, “have wide-ranging mandatory protections” for farmworkers, EWG says.

Those states require produce growers to provide personal protective equipment to farmworkers, and to require physical distancing, workplace disinfection and worker testing, the group said.

The state legislature is working on other protections, and the state has revised and funded several previously existing programs, including unemployment benefits and sick leave policies, to help farmworker families, often regardless of immigration status, EWG says. 

Several major farm states, including Florida and Texas, haven’t even issued recommendations, EWG said.

Social issues confront food companies 

Racism, worker protections and other social concerns may be eclipsing environmental issues for the food industry as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and the death of George Floyd. 

Companies are pivoting to social concerns as they try to “reposition themselves, attempting to show empathy and do the right thing by supporting their communities and ensuring the health and safety of their employees,” according to an analysis by Rabobank.

The analysis goes on, “For the past few years, the larger food companies have been on a mission to try to reconnect and understand their consumers better, to create a relationship and regain their trust. … Although not in a way they expected, the terrible events of 2020 provide a chance for these companies to do just that in a meaningful way (and rise above criticisms of opportunism and virtue signaling).”

Brazilian farmers set to expand soybean planting

Brazil is being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating the country’s economic woes, but farmers are eager to get back into the field and plant more soybeans than ever, according to a new analysis from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

FAS officials say farmers likely will increase soybean acreage by about 4% this year and produce about 130 million metric tons – up from the record-breaking 123 million tons in the previous harvest.

“Market consensus is that Brazil’s gross domestic product is set to contract by at least 7% this year on the account of the hard-hitting novel coronavirus pandemic,” says FAS. Brazil’s agricultural GDP is expected to grow by 2% to 3% this year, largely due to soybeans. 

Brazil is forecast to export 84 million tons of soybeans in 2021, up from 78 million tons this year.

He said it. “The demand side disruptions we’re seeing have been off the charts … in terms of the severity of the impact.” – Gary Adams, president and CEO of the National Cotton Council, on the pandemic-driven slowdown in clothing sales that have hammered the global cotton market. 

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