The Food and Drug Administration is facing a change in leadership with major implications for animal agriculture: Steven Solomon is retiring at the end of the year as director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. CVM regulates animal biotechnology as well as animal drugs and feed labeling.

Dana Brooks, president of the Pet Food Institute, said Solomon has been a strong advocate on animal and food issues within FDA and on Capitol Hill.

“The challenge is going to be that he has so many years of expertise,” Brooks said. “He knows the internal workings at FDA.”

Dave Fairfield, National Grain and Feed Association senior vice president of feed, said Solomon’s leadership style “fostered a frequent and open dialogue with stakeholders.”

Looking ahead: Deputy Director Tracey Forfa will become acting director of CVM. She has a good working relationship with stakeholders, but she lacks an animal or veterinarian background, Brooks says.

“We hope when they look to the next director, they’ll look at someone who has experience in companion animal or animal veterinary medicine,” Brooks said. “We have to have someone who has that type of broad experience and understanding of the way government operates to be able to step into that position and be ready to hit the ground running.”

UN leads intense negotiations on fate of Ukraine grain

Negotiators from the United Nations, Turkey, Ukraine and Russia are wrangling over the fate of the soon-to-expire Black Sea Grain Initiative, according to a UN spokesman. The initiative implemented on July 22 allows three ports in Odesa to export wheat, corn and other commodities despite the ongoing war. But the deal is scheduled to expire on Nov. 19 unless it is extended.

The UN has said it is working to both extend and expand the scope of the deal, but Russia continues to complain that it continues to face difficulties in exporting its fertilizer and wheat, and concerns are mounting that Moscow might cancel the deal or refuse to agree to its extension.

“These are pretty intense negotiations going on right now,” the UN spokesman told reporters.

Why it matters: Ukraine has shipped millions of tons of wheat and corn through the three Odesa ports since they reopened. UN officials say that has lowered food prices in Africa and elsewhere.

“Grain shipment continues safely as planned,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said in a tweet Wednesday. “Today, 6 ships departed from Ukrainian ports with grain loaded.”

Report: Climate change could be drag on Midwest yields

A new report by the Environmental Defense Fund details some of the potential impacts of climate change on Midwest crop yields. EDF used 20 computer models to estimate impacts on major crops on a county-by-county basis in Iowa, Minnesota and Kansas.

The results: Some 60% of Iowa’s counties would have declines in corn yields of at least 10% by 2030 and other counties would see yields drop by at least 5%. In Minnesota, more than half the counties would see soybean yields drop by more than 5% by the end of this decade.

In Kansas, about 8% of the state’s counties would have declines in winter wheat yields of at least 5%.

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The report, which includes an interactive map, outlines several ways to adapt to climate change, including gene editing of crops, precision ag practices and cover crops. “The scale of impacts by 2030 suggests that we are rapidly running out of time to make the necessary adaptations,” the report says.

Keep in mind: EDF is a founding member of the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, a coalition that includes many major farm groups.

NAS study puts focus on methane-sourced fuel

A new National Academy of Sciences report could give a boost to efforts to recalculate the carbon intensity of biomethane produced by digesters under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

The report says “the most significant fuels with large negative CI (carbon intensity) scores under existing policy are based on biomethane from manure.” But those scores could go up if the policy picture changes – for example, if all operations were required to use enclosed digesters, the report says.

A Food & Water Watch attorney agreed with the report’s characterization and called for approval of a state bill requiring the California Air Resources Board to “directly regulate short-lived climate pollutants like methane from dairy operations on or after Jan. 1, 2024, if certain conditions are met.”

But, but, but: Renewable Fuels Association President & CEO Geoff Cooper said the report’s conclusions “don’t necessarily offer any new insights.” He thinks it will have little impact on EPA’s upcoming “set” rule, which will determine new biofuel usage targets.

“This was largely an academic exercise and we don’t expect it will have much impact on current or future low carbon fuel policies and regulations,” Cooper said, while acknowledging the need for better data.

“More current and more robust data sets would surely show that the carbon intensity of biofuels like ethanol is even lower than current models suggest,” he said.

Farmers can switch commodity programs

The Farm Service Agency has opened enrollment for the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs for the 2023 crop, allowing producers to switch from their current program.

Gary Schnitkey, an economist at the University of Illinois, says current market trends favor ARC-County for Midwest crops, but he notes it’s too early to get a good indication of which option producers will choose. Farmers have until March 15 to make changes. 

PLC triggers payments when average market prices fall below reference prices. ARC-County triggers payments when county revenue falls below a five-year average.

She said it: “Not only has he been transparent about his goals for the agency, he has also challenged our industry to tackle ongoing food safety issues so we can continue developing safer food for all.” - American Feed Industry Association President and CEO Constance Cullman on retiring CVM Director Steven Solomon.

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