WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2016 - The third and final presidential debate this year is set for tonight in Las Vegas. Donald Trump badly needs to use the debate to reset the race and regain the momentum over the past two weeks. The topics are supposed to include the Supreme Court as well as immigration policy, an issue that has received little attention in the first two debates.
But when it comes to food and agricultural policy, the most interesting debate probably won’t be in Las Vegas but in the nation’s capital today.
Trump’s top agricultural advisers, Sam Clovis and Nebraska agribusinessman Charles Herbster, will be representing the candidate at a forum this morning sponsored by the Farm Foundation at the National Press Club. Herbster chairs the Trump agricultural council that includes producers, industry trade officials and many GOP governors and agriculture commissioners.
Representing Hillary Clinton will be Kathleen Merrigan, who served as deputy agriculture secretary during President Obama’s first term. Merrigan is now a professor of public policy at The George Washington University and is a co-chair of AGree, a group formed to forge bipartisan solutions to critical farm policy issues.
The forum starts at 8 a.m. EST. There will be a live audio cast of the event, and a recording is expected to be available later at the Farm Foundation web site.
Produce chief, Vilsack among invitees to final state dinner. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Cathy Burns, the president of the Produce Marketing Association, were on the guest list for President Obama’s final state dinner last night with the prime minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi.
Other guests included Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the UN World Food Program, which has its headquarters in Rome.
The menu for the White House lawn event featured a number of ingredients from Michelle Obama’s last harvest from the White House Kitchen Garden, including eggplant, basil, tomatoes and rosemary. The main course - prime beef tenderloin - most certainly didn’t originate on the White House lawn.
Vilsack’s ‘food group.’ Vilsack’s name surfaced in the latest round of hacked emails from Wikileaks. In one of the emails, Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, forwarded a list of 38 possible vice presidential candidates organized by gender, profession and ethnicity, or as Podesta put it, “food groups.”
Vilsack’s “food group” was a collection of white, male office holders that included Clinton’s eventual choice for VP, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.
Ryan blasts Obama for easing restrictions on Cuba. House Speaker Paul Ryan says the Obama administration’s latest move to ease trade restrictions with Cuba is just another effort to appease an oppressive regime. The latest regulatory changes, which took effect Monday, will make it easier to sell farm equipment and pesticides to Cuba and end a 180-day waiting period for foreign ships returning to the U.S. after visiting Cuba.
In a statement, Ryan says Obama’s latest move “will only help finance the Castros’ grip on power and jeopardize the intellectual property rights of American businesses. As the past two years of normalizing relations have only emboldened the regime at the expense of the Cuban people, I fully intend to maintain our embargo on Cuba.”
The biggest obstacle to farm exports to Cuba is still the requirement that Cuban importers pay cash up front. Farm groups have been hoping that Congress could act during the upcoming lame duck session to end that restriction.
Russian conflict takes toll on Ukrainian dairy farmers. Dairy production and exports are turning out to be another casualty of war in eastern Ukraine. Not only did the Russian demand for Ukrainian dairy products dry up, but Russia is also blocking the country’s shipments to other countries, according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
“Once significant, the Russian cheese market remains closed for Ukrainian products since August 2014,” FAS says in its report.  Ukraine has so far been unsuccessful in finding new markets for its cheese, butter or whole dairy products.
Size may matter - when it comes to spices. A federal judge is allowing a lawsuit to proceed against spice giant McCormick over its container practices. 
Watkins Inc., a competing company based in Winona, Minn., has alleged that early last year, McCormick started reducing the amount of black pepper in its containers by about 25 percent without changing the size of the containers. That’s a practice known as "slack-filling." 
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle rejected McCormick’s motion to dismiss the claims against it. The company's insistence that the size of its containers doesn’t constitute advertising or promotion "defies common sense and the law," the judge says in her decision
Putting China trade case in perspective. During a speech this week in Geneva, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman used a stark comparison to make a point about the significance of the U.S. trade case against China’s commodity subsidies. The U.S. claims that China is spending $100 billion over its WTO limits.
“Think about that for a minute: $100 billion is more than the GDP of 130 countries,” Froman said. “How can we have a serious conversation about distortions to global agricultural trade if we pretend that trade-distortive subsidies at this level don't exist?
Meet the Farmhand. Agri-Pulse’s Spencer Chase interviews lobbyist Mike Torrey about his career in Washington. Torrey credits former Senate majority leader Bob Dole with the large contingent of fellow Kansans in Washington ag circles.
Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report. 


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