Americans are cutting back on Thanksgiving plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the good news for consumers is that prices for the turkey and some of the trimmings will be lower.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual survey, dinner for 10 people would cost $46.90, down $2.01 from last year and the lowest cost since 2010. A 16-pound turkey will cost $19.39, $1.21 down from last year. Prices for whipping cream and sweet potatoes also will be lower. 

“Pricing whole turkeys as ‘loss leaders’ to entice shoppers and move product is a strategy we’re seeing retailers use that’s increasingly common the closer we get to the holiday,” said John Newton, AFBF’s chief economist. 

By the way: There are still many people in need as the pandemic worsens. According to an analysis of the latest Census Bureau data, about 10% of households, or 3.5 million, are “not at all confident” they will have enough food over the next four weeks. Just 44% of households with children are “very confident” that they can afford what they need.

USDA: Payment limit eligibility rule was a mistake

USDA officials insist they goofed when released a rule in August that required family members to start meeting management time requirements to qualify for commodity program payments. USDA released a correction Wednesday to an August rule that had expanded the eligibility requirements. 

“We immediately realized that language was in there and frankly immediately went to work to make a correction,” Farm Service Agency Administrator Richard Fordyce said. 

Keep in mind: Leaders of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition don’t believe USDA’s claim that it made a mistake. “Issuing this ‘correction’ to a final rule flouts congressional intent, invites legal challenge, and provides a windfall for the biggest, most complex farming operations while ignoring real family farmers who need the assistance,” said NSAC Policy Director Eric Deeble.

Bayer ally aims to track commodities

A new blockchain network is being billed as a first-of-its-kind method of tracking farm commodities from seed to market. BlockApps, which developed the TraceHarvest Network with agribusiness giant Bayer, says the system could be used to track carbon crediting as well as food safety recalls. 

Sid Siefken, BlockApps’ director of business development for agriculture, said the network also will aid in gathering information on agronomic practices that may be recommended or required for production of specialty products such as high-oleic soybeans, for example.

Michael Pareles, Bayer Crop Science’s digital strategy and growth lead, said “using TraceHarvest in production has allowed us to drive operational efficiencies, create value and have greater visibility, transparency and compliance throughout the entire food supply and value chain.”

Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyomin

Forest Service acts to ease NEPA reviews

New Forest Service regulations will expand the number of activities exempt from review under the National Environmental Policy Act. A rule being published today would allow restoration projects of up to 2,800 acres to go forward without preparation of a NEPA document and also allow the service to use previously prepared NEPA documents to justify current projects. 

But the rule is expected to be challenged in court, although the Forest Service had originally proposed exempting projects of up to 7,300 acres. “We won’t let this illegal policy go unchallenged,” said Sam Evans, leader of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s National Forests and Parks Program.

Western lawmakers praised the new regs, as did the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “I applaud the Forest Service for streamlining environmental permitting for forest management projects that will improve the health of our national forests and help protect the surrounding communities from catastrophic wildfires,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif.

Georgia senators seek Mexican produce probe

Georgia GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are asking U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to broaden the investigation into Mexican produce exports to include cucumbers and squash. This comes as Perdue and Loeffler are both facing runoff elections on Jan. 5 that will determine control of the Senate. 

“Fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico continue to dramatically impact U.S. markets and threaten the future of domestic farm production of perishable produce,” the lawmakers say in a letter to Lighthizer. “Prices are now well below U.S. production costs for several of these commodities and appear to correlate directly with increasing fall shipments from Mexico.”

The USTR last week asked the U.S. International Trade Commission to begin monitoring Mexican strawberry shipments. That comes in addition to an ongoing USITC investigation of blueberries coming across the southern border.

US soy works to deepen ties to Chinese buyers 

Another record-breaking year of Chinese soybean imports this year provided an optimistic backdrop for a meeting held this week between the U.S. Soybean Export Council, Chinese government officials and soy importers.

Xiaoping Zhang, USSEC’s regional director for greater China, predicted at the meeting that China would import 100 million metric tons of soybeans in the 2020 calendar year, up from the 1997 record of about 96 million tons.

USSEC hosted the meeting this week together with a Chinese federation of ag importing and exporting companies, including COFCO and Sinograin. Representatives of ADM, Bunge, Cargill and CHS were also present.

Biofuel demand uncertain as COVID cases rise

A biofuel industry leader expects ethanol demand to dwindle over the next six months if lockdowns expand and people limit travel over the holiday season. “I think it’s going to be slow,” said Ron Lamberty, senior vice president at the American Coalition for Ethanol, speaking online to the annual National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention. 

According to Energy Information Administration data analyzed by the Renewable Fuels Association, ethanol production during the week that ended Nov. 13 is 1.5% lower than the week prior. Production was 6.9% below the same week in 2019.

FDA starts posting outbreak data

FDA has created a new web page to make it easier to keep up with outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. The agency launched the table with seven ongoing investigations, only one of which, involving peaches, has identified the food responsible for the illnesses. 

FDA "is committed to transparency and keeping the public and stakeholders informed of our work upholding the safety of our food supply,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response. 

He said it. “The moral of the story is run from the time you're four until you're 87. Stay in good shape.” – Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., talking to reporters about Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has tested positive for COVID-19 and has a long reputation for being physically active. Grassley tweeted Wednesday that he was still symptom free.

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