The Agriculture Department says it plans to conduct preparatory work on the debt relief program for socially disadvantaged farmers, following an order from a federal judge in Texas stopping USDA from providing payments.
 USDA responded in court Friday to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s July 1 order by saying that while it had not been making any payments, it had been sending offer letters “to enable prompt payments if later permitted,” and it was continuing to do so.
In response, O’Connor ordered the plaintiffs in the case, including Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller, to respond by Monday, July 5, to the government’s notice, “indicating whether [they] are injured in the government’s continued use of race and ethnicity in preparatory steps.”
 O’Connor said although his July 1 order “requires the government to act … without consideration of race or ethnicity for any applicants to the debt-relief program, it did not directly address the government’s use of race and ethnicity in identifying and noticing loan-holders who may be eligible for debt relief but have yet to apply.”
 O’Connor’s injunction was the third such order issued by federal courts blocking payments under the $4 billion program approved in the American Rescue Plan. The judge also certified two classes of producers in the case — those white farmers holding direct or guaranteed loans and those who are “all white (or mostly white) … who are encountering discrimination from [USDA] on account of their race.”
USDA: US soy exports had record-breaking first quarter
U.S. soybean exports set a new record for volume in the first quarter of 2021 and reached the second-highest value ever for shipments, according to a new analysis from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Dry weather in late 2020 delayed Brazil’s crop and U.S. exporters took advantage, extending their shipments through early 2021 to China, where demand remains very strong.
The U.S. exported $7.7 billion worth of soybeans in the first three months of 2021, nearly double the first quarter of 2020. FAS says it expects shipments will be robust for the rest of 2021, but does not expect the fourth quarter to be as strong as last year.
“Building off record first quarter export volumes, 2021 is poised to be an excellent year for U.S. soybeans,” FAS said. “Aided by sustained high prices and growing trade with major markets outside of China, such as Egypt and Mexico, export values are likely to remain strong throughout the year.”
US ethanol exports dropped in May, but shipments of distillers grains rose
The U.S. exported 70.4 million gallons of ethanol in May, a 38% drop from April as importers in Canada, South Korea and India scaled back purchases and Brazil remained out of the market, according to a new analysis from the Renewable Fuels Association.
The new May numbers bring year-to-date ethanol exports to 582.4 million gallons, which is 11% less than the five-month total last year, according to RFA.
Meanwhile, U.S. exports of distillers grains exports were up in May, said RFA, with exports up 21% over April — the first time in eight months that shipments rose above 1 million metric tons.
“Mexico boosted its imports by 61% to mark its eighth consecutive month as our top customer,” RFA said. “Shipments of 255,394 (metric tons to Mexico) represented a quarter of all U.S. DDGS exports in May and were more than twice Mexico’s imports at this time a year ago.”
FDA releases Cyclospora action plan
An action plan released by the Food and Drug Administration “will serve as a strategic guide to improve prevention, enhance response activities and fill knowledge gaps about the presence of Cyclospora in or on foods,” the agency said last week.
FDA formed a task force in 2019 in response to “rising case numbers and the emergence of Cyclospora contamination in domestically grown produce.”
In addition to the development of educational materials and outreach, FDA said it is “working with industry to encourage the development of rapid test kits to specifically detect Cyclospora to better facilitate industry testing and root cause analysis activities.”
The plan also focuses on expanding laboratory capacity to sample and test for Cyclospora.
Global poultry market rebounding, Rabobank says
A new Rabobank report says reopening of economies around the world as vaccination levels accelerate in developing countries and increase in emerging markets is contributing to an improved global outlook for the poultry industry.
“Strong local market conditions are expected in the US, Mexico, Japan, and Russia, while Europe and South Africa are expected to see better conditions due to stronger demand and, in Europe, lower production,” the report says, according to a summary from Rabobank.
“Global trade has been highly impacted by Covid-19, with quarterly trade volumes down by 5% to 10%,” Rabobank said. “Improved market conditions in Europe, northeast Asia, and Mexico will help trade flows to recover in these regions.”
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