USDA officials tell Agri-Pulse they are working “amicably” with the Biden transition team, which is paving the way for the incoming administration next week. On the international front, the transition team has been pressing USDA for details on the impacts of the “phase one” trade deal with China.

President-elect Joe Biden will be facing a major decision on how to deal with the ongoing trade war with China. On the domestic side, the transition team is largely focused on farm bill issues.

Elsewhere: The transition team has been pursuing issues concerning the European Union when it comes to its interactions with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, an official at the agency says. The source says USTR is being cooperative.

Keep in mind: Government officials tell Agri-Pulse they hope the Trump administration appointees vacate by Friday, ahead of the three-day weekend and the official Jan. 20 transition on Wednesday.

Bill Northey, USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation, has said the department is working to tee up decisions that the incoming administration can make quickly to distribute aid from the new coronavirus relief package.

Stabenow presses worker protections

The incoming chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, is pushing USDA to implement worker protection measures that were funded in the COVID aid package.

The legislation earmarked a minimum of $1.5 billion for several needs, including worker protections, retooling assistance for farmers and processors, and purchases of food for distribution to the need.

USDA subsequently announced a new round of funding for the Farmers to Families Food Box program, but the other provisions are likely to take a while to implement. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on Dec. 28.

“Congress gave USDA the funds and flexibility to help producers and processors keep their workers safe. In order to repair our food supply and feed families in need, USDA must prioritize safety in addition to food purchases.” Stabenow said in a press release that included statements from farm groups as well as the United Farm Workers.

“We are thankful that Congress is not asking farmers to bear the full burden of these mounting expenses and strongly encourage USDA to follow through with an allocation of meaningful funds to further promote agricultural worker safety,” said Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers.

Brazil soy harvest still in early stages

Brazil’s soybean harvest would be in full swing by now under more normal circumstances, but only a very limited amount of work is being done – mostly on irrigated lands – because of the dry weather that postponed planting, according to AgRural, a Brazilian farm commodity consulting company.

While the harvest is delayed because of dry weather in September that set back the schedule for most farmers in the country, the crops look good in most of the major growing regions after plentiful rains in December and the first week in January, the company says in a new analysis.

Still, there has been some damage to crops, and AgRural says it will be issuing a new production forecast for the country later this month. Its latest December estimate is for 131.7 million metric tons.

Pilgrim’s agrees to $75M settlement

The settlements keep coming in civil litigation involving allegations of price fixing against broiler chicken producers.

The latest announcement came from Pilgrim’s Pride, which said Monday it would pay $75 million to broiler buyers who have sued producers in the Northern District of Illinois.

Previous agreements involving smaller producers total about $15 million, but several other companies have yet to settle, including Tyson Foods, Koch Foods, Sanderson Farms and Mountaire Farms.

Western Caucus priorities include protecting forest and ag jobs

With Democrats now in control of the federal government, co-chairs of the Congressional Western Caucus say they’ll have to work across the aisle to move ahead on energy, ag, natural resource policy priorities.

Senate Western Caucus Chairman Steve Daines, R-Mont., says one area includes increasing the scale and scope of forest management. “That’s going to bring back jobs … in these rural counties that have high percentages of federal lands,” Daines said.

House Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse, R-Wash. said other priorities include reforming the Endangered Species Act and advancing water supply infrastructure policy.

Keep in mind: Democrats will narrowly control both the House and Senate this year, so enacting the Western Caucus priorities will be a heavy lift.

K-9 Kody with pork sausages. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Protecting the border: CBP dog nabs the pork

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agricultural specialists say one of their inspection dogs has prevented homemade pork sausage from Kosovo from entering the U.S. On Friday, CPB seized about 88 pounds of homemade pork sausage from a passenger arriving at Newark’s Liberty International Airport.

“The importation of swine meat, though seemingly harmless to the general public, could cause grave damage to our economy and agricultural industry,” said Troy Miller, Director of CBP’s New York Field Operations, referring to the risk of the meat carrying an animal disease.

USDA confirms gorilla COVID-19 infections

Three gorillas at the San Diego Zoo are the first animals of that species in the U.S. to be infected with the coronavirus, according to USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories.

USDA tested the gorillas after they began coughing and suspects they were infected by a zoo employee.

USDA expects the gorillas to make a full recovery.

She said it. “To safeguard our food supply chain and address racial inequities, farm workers must be at the center of national agricultural policy and COVID-19 packages.” – Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers.

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