WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2016 - President Barack Obama may not be able to convince Congress to lift the roughly 50-year old U.S. embargo on Cuba before his second term is up, but the White House is doing everything it can to build more ties to the communist country. The latest round of measures from the Obama administration that go into effect today promise to be popular with cigar aficionados and poultry exporters.
One measure allows U.S. travelers to bring home as many of the Cuban stogies as they can carry. Another measure lifts shipping restrictions that have hindered the U.S. poultry industry as exports rise to the island nation. Up until today, foreign-owned ships could not return to a U.S. port for 180 days after docking at a Cuban port, often complicating sales to the island nation that is just 90 miles off the U.S. coast.
“We’re ecstatic,” Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) told Agri-Pulse. “It’s probably about the best thing that the Obama Administration has done without needing the approval of Congress. We’re very pleased and we’re sure our Cuban friends are even more pleased.”
Exports of most types of U.S. agriculture commodities to Cuba are on the decline, but shipments of poultry are on the rise this year. The U.S. exported about $66 million worth of poultry to Cuba in the first eight months of this year, up from about $63 million in the same time frame last year.
“It was very problematic,” Sumner said about the 180-day rule. “It was just very restrictive and had an impact on our freight costs.”
North Carolina tallies up damage from Hurricane Matthew. The rain, winds and flooding from Hurricane Matthew hit farmers and ranchers in North Carolina especially hard and it will be weeks before a full damage estimate can be made, Governor Pat McCrory said in an audio recording posted by USDA.
More than 70 percent of the North Carolina’s poultry producers were in areas hit by flooding and the damage was severe, said Bob Etheridge, a state director for USDA's Farm Service Agency in Raleigh.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “Some of these chicken houses had several feet of water in them and there’s nothing (producers) could do … Unfortunately, when that happens the litter and everything else becomes mush. The animals, of course, have drowned and they’ve got to get them out.”
But that’s hard to do, Etheridge said. Even in houses where the water has subsided, the earth is often too muddy to drive heavy machinery.
The damage was also severe to many field crops. Soybeans, corn and sweet potatoes were hit especially bad, said Etheridge.
China reaffirms commitment to keep buying U.S. soybeans. Chinese officials made a show of signing a contract to continue importing U.S. soybeans at an event in Iowa on Friday that was attended by USDA officials.
USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator Phil Karsting was at the U.S. China Cooperative Forum in Iowa and said China’s demand for U.S. soybeans is increasing because of the country’s growing middle class and its rising demand for protein.
Chinese soybean imports slipped last year, but are on the rise this year, according to USDA data.

China bought about $10.5 billion worth of soybeans from the U.S. in 2015, down from $14.5 billion in 2014, according to Foreign Agricultural Service numbers.
This year, the trade picture is looking brighter. China imported about $4.1 billion of U.S soybeans in the first eight months of this year, up from $3.5 million from January through August last year.
“Every other row of (U.S.) soybeans is exported and about every fourth row goes to China,” Karsting said.
USDA’s “GIPSA Rules” already getting mixed reviews. The USDA rules to establish new regulations on poultry and livestock marketing practices haven’t even been published and they are already getting criticized and lauded from different sources.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said in a statement that he will be opposed to them if the three “GIPSA Rules” that USDA sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget are at all like the previous proposals released by USDA.

“While the impact of these rules is not fully known, if they are in any way similar to the 2010 GIPSA proposal, I have serious concerns that the U.S. livestock, poultry, and meat sectors will be tremendously burdened and experience irreparable harm during already difficult economic times,” Roberts said. “I will continue to advocate for the interests of livestock, poultry, and meat producers as these rules moves forward due to the harm they will cause, not only in my home state of Kansas but across the country.”

Meanwhile, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the rules – one interim final rule and two proposed rules – will be a win for agriculture.
“Livestock producers and poultry growers have been waiting too long for much needed protections against the fraudulent, anti-competitive practices they fall victim to in the marketplace,” Johnson said. “We applaud USDA for staying committed to publishing rules that seek to protect producers, growers, consumers and the industry alike.” 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a letter to the North American Meat Institute that the rules are needed.

“The Farmer Fair Practices Rules will seek to help balance the relationships between livestock producers, swine production contract growers, and poultry growers and the packers, swine contractors, and live poultry dealers with whom they interact,” Vilsack wrote.

He said it: “I saw a photograph the other day … of a soybean field that looked like it was a rice field. It was just covered in water and you could just barely see the tops of the soybeans.” That was Bob Etheridge, a state director for USDA's Farm Service Agency, talking about the flooding from Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina.


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