U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai signaled Monday that the Biden administration is ready to begin pressing Beijing to fulfill its promises under the Phrase One agreement, but she didn’t  commit to negotiating a much-desired second phase that would elicit new promises of ag commodity purchases.

Groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and U.S. Dairy Export Council are making it clear that they want the Biden administration to restart trade negotiations with China and secure another commitment from the country for massive purchases. And USDEC is still hoping the nations will agree to lift the tariffs that are weighing down trade.

Katherine Tai

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai

USDEC President and CEO Krysta Harden reacted to Tai’s speech, saying: “American dairy farmers and manufacturers count on the ability for our products to meet China’s appetite for dairy, yet retaliatory tariffs continue to weigh down our prospects there. … In addition, it’s key that the administration encourages China to boost its purchasing of major dairy commodities such as milk powder and cheese that it is still primarily sourcing from other suppliers.”

By the way: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters that farmers can expect the administration to “strongly encourage the Chinese to live up” to its commitments under the Phase One trade deal, including faster approvals of biotech crop traits.  That will open up new trade opportunities, he says.

Take note: Tai also promises that the Biden administration will soon restart the process of handing out exclusions from the tariffs on Chinese goods.

That was a welcome announcement to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, but the group said it would prefer an end to the tariffs.

Kip Eideberg, a senior vice president for AEM, said the group fully supports the resumption of exclusions, but he stressed that “U.S. equipment manufacturers want to see the removal of the tariffs already in place” and noted that the “broad and unilateral use of tariffs has undermined our industry’s global competitiveness.”

Vilsack sees 2022 for meatpacking funding

USDA expects to start taking applications early next year for its $500 million program to expand meat processing capacity, says Vilsack. The department is currently in the process of reviewing 500 comments it received on the program. A framework for the program should be ready by the end of this year, Vilsack told reporters.

On Monday, he announced a separate, $100 million plan to provide loan guarantees for supply chain improvements, including mobile processing facilities or cold storage capacity. Ethan Lane, vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, says USDA’s offer of loan guarantees is “another step toward returning stability to the markets.”

By the way: Vilsack and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, will be lead witnesses at a hearing the House Agriculture Committee is having Thursday on the livestock industry. Grassley is one of Congress’ most outspoken critics of the major meatpackers, and Vilsack took part in a White House event last month that blamed industry consolidation for higher retail food prices.

USDA boosts guaranteed loan borrowing limits

USDA is increasing its limit on guaranteed loans from $1.776 million to $1.825 million, effective immediately. FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux says the increase will help producers who’ve been dealing with natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of farmers receiving guaranteed loans has increased 10% over the past decade, and FSA expects demand to rise through the new fiscal year that started Friday.

Advocates want SCOTUS to weigh in on E15

Growth Energy, a biofuels advocacy group, is asking the Supreme Court to review a D.C. Circuit Court ruling that struck down an EPA decision approving the sale of E15.

The organization argues that the appellate court decision “did not give proper deference to EPA, contradicted congressional intent in promoting renewable fuels, and would suppress the expansion of higher-blend renewable fuels in the future,” according to a press release.

In May 2019, the Trump administration lifted the restriction on selling the higher blend of ethanol, which could not be sold between June 1 and Sept. 15.hydroponic lettuce

Organic growers to appeals court: Hydroponics don’t qualify

Soil is essential to organic farming systems, the Center for Food Safety and a group of organic farmers told the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, appealing a district court decision that found hydroponic operations can be certified as organic.

“The Organic Foods Production Act’s language is plain and mandatory: Organic crop producers ‘shall . . . foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring,’” they said in a brief filed in the appeals court.

The district court judge’s decision was short on analysis, devoting just over a paragraph to examining the issues, the appellants said.

The center petitioned USDA to prohibit organic certification of hydroponic operations, but USDA denied the request, leading to the lawsuit.

Consumers saved on food by eating at home

Americans spent nearly 8% less on food last year, largely by eating at home a lot more, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service. Consumers spent nearly 19.5% less on food away from home in 2020 and nearly 5% more at the supermarket.

ERS said in its “Amber Waves” publication that during the pandemic many restaurants and other establishments were forced “to operate at a limited capacity or cease operations, compounding the change in how consumers spent their food dollars.”

He said it. “I’m not overly concerned that we're not going to get the work done, because people step up. That's what we do at USDA. We step up when we have to.” - Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, when asked about concerns that a vaccine mandate would result in staff shortages in local Farm Service Agency offices and slow the processing of farmer applications.

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