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WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2016 - Spokesmen for President-elect Donald Trump have been reminding reporters on a daily basis that he’s ahead of the pace in announcing his cabinet nominees. But that won’t be the case with USDA if Trump doesn’t name his Agriculture secretary today. President Obama named his Interior and Agriculture secretaries on the same day, Dec. 17, 2008. 

Trump announced Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke as his Interior secretary yesterday, a nomination that has been well received both by agriculture and conservation groups. But there’s still no sign of an announcement from Trump Tower on USDA. 

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is the latest to emerge as a possibility for Ag, but his staff didn’t know yesterday whether Trump had interviewed him. “All we know is he is being vetted as a possible candidate. That is all we know,” said the governor’s spokesman, Jon Hanian. 

Otter’s backers include Bill Flory, a former president of the National Association of Wheat Growers and a member of Trump’s ag advisory council.

The leading candidate still appears to be North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. But another name that's surfaced is Wade Cowan, a Texas farmer and former president of the American Soybean Association. And Nebraska agribusinessman Charles W. Herbster, who chaired the Trump advisory council, tells Agri-Pulse that he's still in the mix, too. Herbster said last night that he doesn't know when an announcement will be made. 

USTR hands Trump opportunity to confront China. The Obama administration has set the table for agriculture to be a key part of Trump’s strategy to confront China on trade policy.

In September, the U.S. Trade Representative filed a challenge with the World Trade Organization over China’s artificially high price supports for wheat, corn and rice. And yesterday USTR announced a related challenge, accusing China of failing to import billions of dollars’ worth of grain through tariff rate quotas that were set up when that nation joined the WTO.

The two cases, which could take more than a year to resolve,will be one of the first major challenges for the new USTR. Dan DiMicco, who met with Trump yesterday in New York, is considered a leading candidate for that post. DiMicco has been advising Trump on trade policy and is the former CEO of the Nucor steel company.

Conaway adds SNAP adviser. Jennifer Tiller, who manages a D.C. organization that helps veterans find employment, has been hired to advise the House Agriculture Committee on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as the panel writes the new farm bill. 

The hire provides further evidence that Chairman Mike Conaway plans to beef up the employment provisions in SNAP that encourage recipients to get jobs. 

Hey, we’re ethanol. Remember us? That’s essentially the message to Trump in a letter from 17 pro-biofuel groups. The letter calls on Trump to “stand strong against those who seek to undermine” the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The groups – which range from companies like ADM and DuPont to trade associations like Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association – also pledge to offer their “full support in your continued efforts to grow the nation’s renewable fuels industry.”

Syngenta accused in pesticide case. EPA has filed an administrative complaint seeking $4.8 million from Syngenta for pesticide misuse. The agency said that in January 2016, 10 workers were treated at a hospital after entering a research field too soon after it was sprayed with Lorsban Advanced, the active ingredient for which is chlorpyrifos.

EPA says Syngenta didn’t warn its workers to avoid recently treated fields, and then allowed or directed workers to enter the treated field before the required waiting period had passed.

Syngenta says it’s been working for months with EPA to resolve the matter and that no workers were injured. Syngenta says EPA “is overreaching its authority with this enforcement, lacking precedent and disregarding its own policies and regulations.”

Best, worst agencies to work for. USDA is improving its standing on the list of “Best Places to Work” in the federal government, a point of pride with the outgoing secretary, Tom Vilsack. But some individual agencies within USDA still have some work to do, according to the latest survey.

As a whole, USDA ranks ninth among the 18 largest departments, tied with the Social Security Administration. 

The survey also scores 305 subagencies across the entire government. The Risk Management Agency is the highest ranking USDA agency at 36th, followed by USDA’s Office of Inspector General at 47th and the Farm Service Agency at 54th. 

RMA’s score has improved dramatically during the Obama administration, increasing from 55.5 in 2009 to 76.2.

The lowest rated USDA agency is the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, at 294th. 

The Food and Drug Administration, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, ranks 73rd among the 305 agencies. The Bureau of Land Management, part of the Interior Department, is all the way down at 240th. 

So, where’s the worst place to work in the entire federal government? The Secret Service.

He said it. “I don’t know of any astronaut who doesn’t come back and say ‘We’d better take care of this.’ If we foul this up, there’s no coming back from that.” - John Glenn, the late senator and astronaut whose body is lying in state at the Ohio statehouse today. Glenn was talking about his experience of seeing the earth from space

Washington lawyer Mike McLeod, who handled agriculture policy for Glenn during his unsuccessful presidential campaign, says of Glenn: “He will always be a hero to me.”

Bill Tomson, Spencer Chase and Steve Davies contributed to this report.



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