While work continues to find nominees for some vacant high-level positions, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says it’s just as important to fill “worker bee” positions throughout the entire department. 

He says when he re-assumed his role as secretary this year, the department was down “somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000” people from when he left in 2017. The latest budget summary from the department, prepared for the fiscal 2022 budget proposal, shows total staffing of nearly 100,000 employees.

“We have to obviously work hard to get those folks and those staffs built back up again,” he told Agri-Pulse in an interview Wednesday.

Most of the top officials have either been confirmed or are in some stage of the process, but some positions still lack a nominee, including undersecretary for food safety and undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. Vilsack said the process of clearing people for nomination is a time-consuming one, requiring review by the presidential personnel office.

Asked about state Farm Service Agency and Rural Development directors, he said he expects that “sometime by the end of this month or early next month, we will have a number of those folks identified and hopefully in place.”

House committee chairs push for national hunger conference

A strong nutrition advocate on the House Agriculture Committee is urging the Biden administration to convene a national hunger summit.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., also chair of the House Rules Committee, is leading all 25 committee chairs in calling on Biden to hold a hunger summit focusing on a “roadmap to end hunger in America by 2030.”

“The status quo isn’t working. We need transformational change now,” the letter to Biden reads. The last hunger conference took place just over 50 years ago, according to the letter.

Canadian Pacific gives KCS Sept. 12 deadline on offer

President and CEO of Canadian Pacific Keith Creel says Kansas City Southern has until Sept. 12 to agree to its renewed Aug. 10 offer to buy the railway company.

The renewed offer made by CP comes after the Surface Transportation Board rejected Canadian National’s offer Tuesday, citing competition concerns.

Creel says CP will not wait around forever for KCS to decide.
“It’s not an implied threat, it’s just a fact,” Creel said on an investor call Wednesday. “We all have deal fatigue, this has been going on so long.”

On Aug. 10, CP proposed a $27 billion offer compared to Canadian National’s $29 billion proposal. KCS stockholders are scheduled to meet Friday.

NASS to do early review of acreage data for four crops

The National Agricultural Statistics Service says it will review acreage numbers for corn, sorghum, soybeans, and sugarbeets for the September crop production report.
NASS usually conducts the review for those crops in October but says data are “sufficiently complete” to allow for the early review.

If the review justifies any changes, NASS will publish updated planted and harvested acreage estimates in the Sept. 10 report. NASS also noted “it is normal practice for NASS to review these data in September for cotton, peanuts, and rice.”

USTR fills key role for Southeast Asia trade

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has named long-time government trade official Dawn Shackleford as the new assistant USTR for the Office of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, a position that’s been open since Karl Ehlers retired in May.

Southeast Asian markets are growing increasingly important for U.S. ag exports. Vietnam recently announced it would cut tariffs on corn, wheat and pork, and U.S. producers are eager to gain more access to that country and other nations in the region.

The National Pork Producers Council says gaining better access to Vietnam is one of its top trade priorities.

U.S. ag groups and lawmakers continue to press the Biden administration to nominate a chief agriculture negotiator for the USTR.

NCBA and PLC denounce Biden’s support for Wilderness Act of 1964

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council publicly denounced President Biden’s support for the Wilderness Act of 1964 on Wednesday, saying that designations under the act prohibiting motorized vehicles and mechanical tools “won’t actually result in improved land health” but will instead hinder to efforts to curb wildfire, get rid of invasive species and maintain healthy habitat.

Biden signed a proclamation on Tuesday designating September National Wilderness Month and affirming his support for the law signed by President Lyndon Johnson, which established a National Wilderness Preservation System that now includes more than 800 areas covering 111 million acres. 

Kaitlynn Glover, the executive director of natural resources for the NCBA and the executive director of the PLC, said “holding wilderness areas up as the gold standard for natural landscapes is misguided” and that Biden should also pay attention to conservation efforts by ranchers operating on public land.

Questions? Tips? Contact Bill Tomson at bill@agri-pulse.com