WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2016 - There’s some good news on the agricultural trade front. USDA’s first forecast for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 projects that U.S. agricultural exports are projected to increase $6.0 billion from the revised fiscal 2016 forecast, while imports are forecast $400 million higher. 

Despite the strong U.S. dollar, USDA’s quarterly forecast projects that exports in fiscal 2017 are expected to reach $133 billion, up from $127 billion in FY 2016. The new trade surplus is forecast at $19.5 billion for FY 2017. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the “numbers once again demonstrate the resiliency and reliability of U.S. farmers and ranchers in the face of continued challenges.” 

Beef and pork exports are expected to be rebound modestly, about 2 percent, after falling sharply this year.  

Meanwhile, China is expected to increase imports of soybeans, nuts and pork and move ahead of Canada as the largest U.S. agricultural export market in 2017.

Slumping meat, egg prices keeping food prices flat. Consumers are seeing some benefit from falling prices for meat, eggs and other commodities. USDA’s latest food price forecast shows that supermarket prices are only likely to increase by zero to 1 percent this year.

A big factor is that soft export market that has boosted domestic meat supplies. Beef and veal prices fell 1.4 percent from June to July and are 7.7 percent lower than a year ago.

Poultry prices are down 3.2 percent from last year. Egg prices have fallen 29 percent from 2015, when the avian influenza outbreak hammered producers in the Midwest. 

USDA expects grocery prices to rise between 1 and 2 percent in 2017, still below the historical average inflation.

Agribusiness leaders press Trump for input on immigration. Donald Trump’s backtracking this week on immigration policy should be reassuring to farmers who may have feared having workers deported. But Trump hasn’t addressed concerns about increasing the legal flow of year-around foreign labor. 

But a source familiar with the discussions that agribusiness leaders have had recently with the Trump campaign says they were assured that no decisions would be made on immigrant labor policy without input from farmers. The source says farm leaders made clear to the campaign that the issue for agriculture is not “just legal status, we still don't have enough workers.” 

During appearances this week, Trump seemed to indicate that he was open to providing legal status to many illegal immigrants and that he would generally follow President Obama’s policy on deportations. 

Frank Gasperini, executive vice president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, tells Agri-Pulse that he hopes Trump is serious about allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the country. However, Gasperini says the bigger question is whether comprehensive immigration reform can get through Congress. 

Trump shift brings him closer to public opinion. Trump’s new position on immigration shouldn’t be difficult to defend with Republican voters, according to new Pew Research poll. 

More than half of Republican voters think that providing illegal immigrants a path to citizenship should be given at least equal priority to border security. And well over 60 percent of GOP voters say that illegal immigrants are honest and hard-working and mostly fill jobs that American citizens don't want. 

FDA told records rule unfair to rural veterinarians. The feed industry is appealing to the Food and Drug Administration to exempt veterinarians from having to meet electronic records requirements for antibiotic prescriptions in animal feed. 

The National Grain and Feed Association and the American Feed Industry Association say in a petition to FDA that most vets don't have the personnel and resources needed to implement and maintain the needed computer systems, and that feed mills don’t have the equipment either. The industry groups say FDA has provided a similar exemption for new regulations issued under the Food Safety Modernization Act. 

FDA is requiring increased veterinary oversight of the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock and poultry.

Top lobbyist: GMO debate offers lesson for farm bill. Randy Russell, a 39-year veteran of farm policy who led the industry’s lobbying for the new GMO labeling law, says the effort shows what the food and agriculture sectors can do legislatively when they’re united. Russell told Agri-Pulse’s Spencer Chase in the latest Meet the Farmhands interview that the failure of a farm bill in the House in 2013 had been somewhat demoralizing. 

“That was a low point for our industry,” Russell said. “We’ve got a bounce back in our step in our community and I think it’s going to be helpful going into the next farm bill.” He said that getting the GMO bill was an “enormous team effort” that required pulling together 54 national trade associations. 

Check out the entire interview and learn about Russell’s non-profit work as well as his growing herd of alpacas in rural Virginia. 

He said it. “There were a lot of times that even people within our coalition thought that the cart that was in the ditch was never coming out.” - Lobbyist Randy Russell, on the difficulty of passing the biotech labeling bill

Bill Tomson contributed to this report.


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