A handful of ag groups have been pushing the federal government to get farm and food employees right behind health care workers and vulnerable populations in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution line. Now, that request has also been filtered to the nation’s 50 governors. 

In a letter, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, and the North American Meat Institute all request meat and poultry industry workers – including processing facility employees, Department of Agriculture inspectors and livestock producers – be given “very high priority” in the vaccine distribution process. 

The groups point to the critical infrastructure designation from the Department of Homeland Security earlier this year and say after health care workers and high-risk individuals, prioritizing meat industry workers “would allow the utilization of an existing system to deliver the vaccine to a significant and important part of the workforce.”

Dairy group pushes for DMC signup extension

The National Milk Producers Federation is encouraging the Department of Agriculture to extend the signup for 2021 Dairy Margin Coverage past the current Friday deadline. 

In a letter sent to USDA Monday, NMPF urged Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue to give producers Jan. 30 to apply.

“Extending the DMC deadline to the end of next month will allow farmers to better focus on the turbulent marketing environment we now expect to see in 2021, once we are through the upcoming holiday season,” NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern said. 

As of Monday, 45% of the nation’s nearly 25,000 dairy operations with established production history had signed up for 2021 coverage, according to USDA. At the same time last year, a week before the deadline, 40% – or 10,840 out of 27,150 operations – had signed up.

House set to pass WRDA

The biennial water infrastructure effort is nearing the finish line. 

The House is set to vote on the conference report for the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, clearing the way for the Senate to approve the measure and send it to President Donald Trump’s desk.

The measure includes a funding shift that has been a major priority for the Waterways Council. Under the current legislation, projects have been funded through a 50-50 cost-share between the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and the Treasury Department. Under the update, the fund’s contribution would be reduced to 35%.  

The bill is on the suspension calendar, which allows the House to quickly move bills that can garner the support of two-thirds of the chamber.

Pork exports surged in October

U.S. pork exports in October helped solidify “2020's record pace,” the U.S. Meat Export Federation said in a new analysis released Monday. The U.S. exported 242,536 metric tons of pork valued at $641.1 million for the month, an 8% increase in volume and value over the same time period last year.

U.S. pork exports to Mexico, Japan, Canada, the Philippines and China and Hong Kong in October were all up from last year. USMEF also noted shipments to Central and South America were the strongest since March. U.S. pork exports from January through October totaled 2.46 million tons, 15% above last year’s pace.

“October exports of bone-in hams, for example, were near the July record and up 50% from a year ago,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “This has been a volatile year, filled with shifts in consumer preferences and a lot of uncertainty for international buyers. But the U.S. industry has responded positively to these challenges and the demand dynamics for red meat are quite strong as we approach year's end.”

Restaurant chain sues poultry producers over alleged price-fixing 

Chick-fil-A is suing major poultry producers, alleging bid-rigging that led to the company paying billions of dollars in “artificially inflated” prices for broiler chickens, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Illinois.

The company’s complaint follows criminal indictments of 10 poultry executives by the Justice Department and an agreement by Pilgrim’s Pride to pay a $110.5 million fine to settle price-fixing allegations. The officials have pleaded not guilty, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The lawsuit seeks damages but does not specify an amount. 

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said “follow-on complaints like these are common in antitrust litigation. Such complaints do not change our position that the claims are unfounded. We will continue to vigorously defend our company.” Tyson is one of more than a dozen poultry producers being sued in an ongoing civil case that Chickl-fil-A joined.

Welcome rains spur planting in southern Brazil

Much-needed rain in the first week of December after prolonged dry spells is pushing soybean farmers back into their fields in southern Brazil, according to the Brazilian ag consulting firm AgRural. Dry and hot weather is causing concerns through much of the rest of the country, but rains are forecast over the next few days.

Overall, Brazil has planted 90% of this year’s crop, 3% less than at this time last year, according to AgRural, which has not lowered its soybean production forecast of 132.2 million metric tons.

Don’t miss: Part Five of our series, “Agriculture’s sustainable future: Feeding more while using less,” which looks at what the global demands for sustainability will mean for U.S. competitors and how that might affect American farmers. Brazil became an agricultural powerhouse by converting some of its vast rainforests and savannah into cropland, and its greenhouse gas emissions have ballooned in the process. We’ll look at how U.S. farmers are trying to turn that to their advantage. 

Morocco phosphates firm takes case against duties to the web 

A Moroccan fertilizer company is taking its argument against tariffs online.

OCP North America, a subsidiary of OCP S.A., has launched StandWithUSFarmers.com “to promote awareness and action in response to the threat to U.S. farmers posed by substantial import duties recently imposed by the U.S. Department of Commerce on imports of the phosphate fertilizers on which American farmers depend.”

Two weeks ago, the Commerce Department placed a preliminary duty of 23.46% on U.S. imports from the OCP Group, the company noted in announcing the new effort. Commerce also announced preliminary duties of 21-72.5% on certain Russian imports.

The Mosaic Company, the major U.S. producer of phosphate fertilizers, has petitioned Commerce, claiming the overseas producers are unfairly subsidized. A government investigation is due to be completed by April.

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher at philip@agri-pulse.com