Under court order, USDA is reinstating the farm labor survey that has long been used to determine minimum wage rates for H-2A workers. It’s not clear yet how the action will affect 2021 wage rates. 

Not long after USDA announced it was killing the survey, the Labor Department issued a rule freezing H-2A rates for 2021 and 2022 and then basing them on a national average of wage increases for all jobs. 

A federal judge found in October USDA had not considered the impact on farmworker wages when it decided to scrap the survey in September. USDA says the survey is expected to take nine weeks to complete and will be based on reference weeks in July and October.

Keep in mind: United Farm Workers is asking a court to halt implementation of the new rule, due to take effect Dec. 21. The state of California is seeking to support the lawsuit as a friend of the court.

Biden makes it official: Vilsack to USDA, Tai to USTR

President-elect Joe Biden today will formally introduce Tom Vilsack as his agriculture secretary nominee and congressional trade adviser Katherine Tai as his nominee to become U.S. trade representative. 

The Biden transition team made those selections official on Thursday. In addition to Vilsack, Biden is also bringing back Susan Rice, a national security adviser to former President Barack Obama. She will head Biden’s Domestic Policy Council.

China will be the No. 1 challenge for Tai, who is the former chief counsel on China trade enforcement at USTR during the Obama administration. 

The American Farm Bureau Federation praised the selection of Tai, who is fluent in Mandarin. She “has deep trade experience and a solid understanding of the need to enforce existing trade agreements while working with our trade partners to expand market access for America’s farmers,” AFBF said. 

Read our report on Tai’s selection here. 

By the way: Vilsack likely has a new item on his to-do list. Four years after he issued a rule on livestock and poultry marketing, his successor, Sonny Perdue, has issued a new version. Critics of the latest rule will be counting on Vilsack to scrap it and start over – again.

The rule is supposed to give packers and producers clarity on what constitutes “undue or unreasonable preference” in the meat sector.

Read our story on the new rule here. 

Farm equipment purchases strong

Tractor purchases were up 41% last month over November 2019, and they’re up 16% year to date, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. Sales of combines are up more than 6% for the year. 

The November surge may be due to purchases farmers are timing for tax reasons, “but the market has been pretty solid all year,” said Curt Blades, vice president of ag services at AEM. Government payments have buoyed sales this year, and the increase in commodity prices also has played a role, he told Agri-Pulse

By the way: The flip side of the sharp rise in soybean and corn prices this fall is that livestock and poultry producers will be paying more for feed into 2021.  A new CoBank study suggests feed costs will likely be up 12% increase next year, which would be the largest increase in nearly a decade. 

“Industry margins are far better today than they were in the spring, but there will be tighter windows of opportunity for the livestock and poultry sectors to profit in 2021,” said Will Sawyer, lead animal protein economist with CoBank.

Trump demands single aid logo

President Donald Trump has issued an executive order telling federal agencies to come up with a single logo for all forms of aid that the United States provides. The best known logo is the USAID logo used on American food aid (above).

“The lack of a coherent branding policy has diminished the recognition of the American people’s generosity,” the White House says. 

Keep in mind: It remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will want to carry out this order. 

Algeria boosts soy imports on crushing capacity

Algerian soybean imports have more than tripled thanks to the country’s first-ever soy crushing plant that began operations at the beginning of the year, according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Imports have grown from about 150,000 metric tons to 550,000 tons and are expected to top 700,000 by the end of the 2020-21 marketing year.

Before the crusher went online, the country was one of the biggest soymeal importers in Africa, and little of that came from the U.S. Now, the U.S. has about 20% of the Algerian import market, according to FAS. 

The U.S. Soybean Export Council says Algeria helps make North Africa one of the industry’s key growth areas. 

China, Pakistan wheat imports buoy market

Global wheat prices remain strong despite record supplies this year, and that’s largely because of extremely robust demand from importers in China and Pakistan, according to a new USDA analysis.

In May, USDA was predicting Pakistan would import virtually no wheat this year and the forecast for China was about 6 million metric tons. The latest December forecast shows Pakistan importing more than 2 million tons and China buying more than 8 million tons.

USDA expects the robust demand to continue into 2021. 

They said it. “I learned how good he was when we met on the basketball courts in the House. He set the best picks of anybody,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, R-Kan., bidding a farewell on the Senate floor to retiring Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. 

In his farewell speech, Roberts made a plea for moderation and bipartisanship: “We don’t have to let the apparent gravitational pull of more and more politics in pursuit of power to change what our founders gave us – the creation of a nation of liberty and freedom, the envy of the world – and to literally move the United States Senate from the moorings of its historic and great past to simply be a rubber stamp for radical change.”

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