WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2016 - There’s still been no word from Trump Tower on an agriculture secretary. But sources tell Agri-Pulse that North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is very much in the running for the job despite resistance from President-elect Donald Trump’s agricultural advisers. 

It appears that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be eager to get a 53rd Senate seat in the Republican column, which could potentially allow for larger GOP ratios on committees. 

A spokesman for McConnell would only say that committee ratios would be up for negotiation. Even with last week’s victory in the Louisiana runoff, Republicans will only have a 52-48 majority. 

Trump’s long string of appointments of men to top Cabinet positions also has been raising eyebrows, and a Heitkamp nomination would address that issue.

Trump’s ag advisers feel agriculture is “being thrown under the bus and sacrificed for political reasons,” one source said. 

Heitkamp has backed tougher GIPSA rules. If Heitkamp were to get the job, she would immediately face a confrontation with livestock and poultry groups over the new contracting rules USDA released yesterday. 

Heitkamp didn’t comment on the rules yesterday but she has consistently supported USDA’s work on them. In 2014, she opposed industry efforts to put a provision in the farm bill that would have prohibited USDA from issuing the regulations. 

Two of the new rules would still have to be finalized by the Trump administration. But the third is being issued in interim final form, so it will already be in effect when Trump takes office. The rule sets a new legal standard for proof of harm for violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Vilsack: ‘Absurd’ that election influenced rules. Industry groups lashed out at Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for releasing the rules over their opposition. The National Pork Producers Council said it was “an apparent attack on rural America for its role in helping elect Donald Trump as president.” Vilsack called that allegation “absolutely absurd.”

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, says the rules will test Trump’s pledge to stick up “for the little guy" against corporations. The chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture committees expressed dismay that Vilsack had gone forward with the rules. 

Grassley pledges to grill Pruitt, Perry on RFS. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is promising that he’ll “grill” Energy Department nominee Rick Perry and EPA Administrator pick Scott Pruitt over their support for ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard. Perry, a former Texas governor, and Pruitt, who is Oklahoma attorney general, both have opposed biofuel usage mandates in the past. 

As EPA administrator, Pruitt would set annual usage requirements for refiners. As Energy secretary, Perry would be in charge of biofuel research and development programs.

Branstad got Trump assurance on Pruitt. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who Trump is nominating to become ambassador to China, says the president-elect personally assured him that Pruitt would support renewable fuels as EPA chief. 

“Don’t worry about him, he’s going to be for ethanol,” Trump told Branstad behind the scenes at an Iowa stop of Trump’s victory lap tour. 

“I think that was a condition that he basically laid out when he appointed him,” Branstad said. 

To hear more from Branstad, Trump, and the American Coalition for Ethanol’s Brian Jennings, click here

Pink GMO pineapple gets FDA OK. The. Food and Drug Administration has signed off on the safety of a pineapple that was genetically engineered by Del Monte Fresh Produce to have pink flesh. 

The biotech fruit, which will be grown in Costa Rica, will be identified with tags identifying it as an “extra sweet pink flesh pineapple” to distinguish it from Del Monte’s conventional yellow pineapples. 

The pink pineapple was modified to produce lower levels of natural enzymes that normally convert the pink pigment lycopene to the yellow pigment beta carotene. Lycopene is the pigment that makes tomatoes red and watermelons pink, so it’s safe to consume, the FDA says.

Del Monte didn’t respond to requests for comment on its plans to market the pineapple.

Anti-hunger groups appeal to Trump, Congress. Bread for the World, Feeding America and other anti-hunger organizations have issued a statement appealing to Trump and the new Congress to protect nutrition spending from cuts next year. 

“Federal nutrition programs reduce hunger and poverty, improve health and learning, increase productivity, create jobs, and strengthen our communities,” the 12 groups say. The statement singles out for concern the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

The groups say SNAP is the “nation’s first line of defense against hunger” and is “structured to respond effectively to need as a result of economic downturns, natural disasters, and other causes.”

During the campaign, Trump advisers indicated that SNAP should be protected and kept within the farm bill. But conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation are still expected to push Congress for reductions in nutrition spending. 

Rural, urban areas most affected by trade backed Trump. A report by The Brookings Institution finds that the metropolitan and rural areas that have been hurt the most by trade went heavily for Trump. 

The researchers analyzed areas by the number of ratio of workers who have been certified for federal trade adjustment assistance. It turns out that 90 percent of the communities most affected by trade voted for Trump. 

The report’s authors warn that there is no easy fix for those communities: “Simply raising tariffs or backing out of trade deals could raise the prices of intermediate inputs for existing export industries in these markets, further degrading their global competitiveness and spurring further job loss and economic distress.”

Herrick heads to P.R. firm. USDA’s communications director, Matt Herrick, is moving to the public relations firm, Story Partners. Herrick, who also served a stint at USAID, will lead the firm’s food, agriculture and trade practice. 

He said it. “American family farmers came out of the woodwork to support Trump, and we helped put him in office, and we need some consideration.” - Mike Weaver, president of the Organization for Competitive Markets

Spencer Chase contributed to this report. 



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