The U.S. ag trade deficit continues to grow. USDA is now projecting it will reach $32 billion for fiscal 2024, up from $16.7 billion in FY23.

USDA's latest quarterly outlook raised the estimate for U.S. ag imports to $202.5 billion, while the forecast for exports was unchanged at $170.5 billion.

Take note: China is projected to drop to third place among U.S. ag export markets behind Mexico and Canada. China is now expected to buy $27.7 billion worth of soybeans, corn and other American commodities, a reduction of $1 billion from the February forecast, largely due to increased competition from Brazil.

The volume of U.S. soybean exports to China is down 23% so far this fiscal year compared to FY23. Year-to-date corn exports by volume are down 67%.

Republicans have been attacking the Biden administration over the ag trade deficit, which has several different causes, including declining commodity prices as well as increased consumer demand for imported fruits, vegetables and other products.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says the constant criticism of China by U.S. policymakers is backfiring on American ag exports.

Convicted twice, farmer headed to prison for insurance fraud

A Tennessee tobacco farmer has been sentenced to three years and six months in prison for defrauding the federal crop insurance program. David Garrett Manion, 61, also has been ordered to pay $3.5 million in restitution for the fraud that took place between 2016 and 2022.

It wasn’t the first time he’s been caught. According to the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, a 2016 conviction resulted in Manion being barred from the crop insurance program. “While that case was being resolved … Manion devised a scheme under which other family members applied for and received crop insurance for tobacco that was farmed by and belonged to Manion,” the OIG says in a release.

By the way: The release says Manion also has agreed to pay USDA “nearly $5.5 million to resolve other outstanding issues.” Those issues weren’t detailed. 

Feds seek dismissal of Farm Credit Administration appointment lawsuit

A federal judge should dismiss a lawsuit seeking to require President Joe Biden to appoint two new members to the Farm Credit Administration’s board, a motion filed by the government says.

Two current members of the board — Jeffrey Hall and Glen Smith — are continuing to serve until successors can be confirmed, despite their terms already expiring. The lawsuit, filed by Tennessee rancher and former Farm Credit System borrower Dustin Kittle, claims the lack of new appointments has been “a handicap to the FCA” and has also deprived the system’s borrowers of necessary services.

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Henry Leventis, a U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee representing Biden in the case, said in a motion to dismiss that the court generally does not have jurisdiction to “enjoin or enter a declaratory judgement against the President.” Even if it did, he argued that it would not be able to force Biden to perform “discretionary acts” like appointments. In an accompanying brief, he said, Kittle is trying to “effect political action against the President.”

Take note: Earlier this month, President Biden did nominate Marcus Graham, currently the deputy administrator for field operations at USDA’s Farm Service Agency, to fill one of the board’s seats.

Global Food Policy Report seeks ways to boost diet quality

Increasing the availability of nutrient-rich plant-based foods “will be essential to making sustainable healthy diets attainable for all,” nutrition researchers and global food economists say in the 2024 Global Food Policy Report.

Co-authored by 41 researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute and partnering organizations, the yearly synthesis of global research efforts includes recommendations for research into orphan and under-utilized crops, and biofortification of staple crops. 

“Evidence suggests that poor quality diets are the leading cause of disease worldwide and that one in five lives could be saved by improving diets. Thus, it is imperative that we prioritize improving diets as a critical entry point for addressing all forms of malnutrition and diet related NCDs,” said report author Deanna Olney, director of IFPRI’s nutrition, diets, and health unit.

USDA seeking nominees for Cotton Board

USDA is looking for nominees for the Cotton Board, which oversees and administers the checkoff-funded Cotton Research & Promotion Program.

The department is specifically looking for domestic producers from Arizona, Georgia and Texas, as well as cotton importers, to fill positions for seven members and seven alternates.

USDA will appoint members to serve three-year terms starting Jan. 1. "Certified producer organizations and certified importer organizations will hold caucuses to nominate two qualified persons for each open position in their respective industry segment,” USDA said.