Changes in foreign currency markets, combined with recent food inflation and foreign debt challenges, risk undermining the ability of many lower-income countries to feed themselves.

That’s the warning of Gro Intelligence CEO Sara Menker who addressed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s ag advisory board on Wednesday.

Due in part to the strong dollar, countries that rely on importing wheat and other commodities aren’t seeing the benefit of recent weakening in global markets. For example, local currency prices for key food commodities in Syria are still up 700% over the past three years, while Turkey has seen a 422% increase, she said. In Egypt, the cost of wheat is still at an all-time high, even though wheat prices have dropped globally, she said.

“The physical reality on the ground in many parts of the world is shifting, and has shifted drastically, and has not reverted back to pre-war levels,” Menker said.

By the way: Foreign debt is a growing concern because many countries both import food in dollars and make debt payments in dollars, Menker said. She suggests some of those nations could be forced to choose between buying food, paying down debt, or defaulting.

Milk processors commit to lowering sugar, calories in school flavored milk

Dairy companies are pledging to provide school milk options with no more than 10 grams of added sugar per 8-fluid-ounce serving as part of a new Healthy School Milk Commitment.

The International Dairy Foods Association made the announcement Wednesday at Dodson Elementary School in Canton, Michigan, alongside local and state officials and leadership from Dairy Farmers of America, Stacy Dean, USDA deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, and partner organizations.

According to IDFA, the commitment is a proactive effort developed on behalf of milk processors who sell products to U.S. public schools to preserve flavored milk options as part of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. USDA currently has proposed one option to provide only unflavored milk for school-aged children grades K-8

Among milk options available in schools, low-fat flavored milk is the most-consumed beverage for students regardless of grade, IDFA says. Flavored milk products such as chocolate milk offered in schools today contain an average of just 8.2 grams of added sugar per serving.

NRCS says conservation drainage projects can get IRA funding

Even though the Natural Resources Conservation Service has not specifically identified drainage water management as a practice eligible for Inflation Reduction Act funding, the service says edge-of-field practices such as bioreactors can still be eligible.

NRCS Deputy Chief for Programs Karen Woodrich told the Conservation Drainage Network’s annual meeting Wednesday that practices designed to increase crop efficiency and reduce nitrogen runoff may be eligible for IRA funding as long as they are directly tied into a conservation system approach that addresses climate mitigation priorities. Drainage management may support those conservation practices that already reduce GHG emissions and improve carbon storage. 

The law includes $19.5 billion over five years for NRCS conservation programs to address climate change. Woodrich said that money is not just for oversubscribed programs, but also will be used to invest in new projects. She urged attendees to go back and talk to their state conservationists and state technical committees about how to use the IRA funding. She also said there’s an opportunity to update the list of approved practices for fiscal 2024.

“Let's not get hung up on the fact that this is something new,” she said. “We need your help to do more with it.”

USTR explains why new approach to trade is needed

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai used a speech last night to explain the Biden administration’s reasons behind refusing the “traditional approach to trade” that prioritizes “aggressive liberalization and tariff elimination.”  

Lawmakers have repeatedly demanded that the Biden administration strike new free trade agreements that contain tariff-slashing measures.

“This approach produced significant benefits – massive increases in economic activity and historic reductions in poverty in some regions,” Tai said in a speech at the American University Washington College of Law. “But we must also acknowledge that the focus on maximum efficiency above all else had significant costs and side effects.

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“Prosperity without inclusiveness contributed to rising inequality and wealth concentration,” she added. “Trade also played a role in shipping jobs overseas, which decimated manufacturing communities. And our supply chains became more dispersed and fragile.”  

US, China clash on tariffs at WTO

Frustration between China and the U.S. over tariffs turned into a back-and-forth argument during two days of meetings this week by the Council for Trade in Goods at the World Trade Organization, according to Geneva trade officials.

China began the altercation by complaining that the U.S. began the tariff escalation during the Trump administration by hitting $360 million worth of Chinese goods with tariffs without doing a WTO dispute process. Since then, the Chinese said, the U.S. has further abused the justification of “national security” to hit China with “disruptive and restrictive measures.”

U.S. representatives in Geneva argued that China retaliated against the U.S. with its own tariffs – mostly on U.S. ag commodities.

CHS brings in $11.3B in second quarter

Agribusiness cooperative CHS raked in $11.3 billion in the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2023, a 9% increase from the same period last year.

The company, however, saw pretax losses of $81.6 million in its agriculture segment. CHS, in a press release, attributed this decrease to lower prices for agronomy products and ethanol.

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