WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2017 - The Agriculture seat in Donald Trump’s cabinet will be one of the last top positions filled, but the vacancy isn’t expected to last much longer. It seemed last week that Trump would choose a Texan for the position – he interviewed former Rep. Henry Bonilla, Elsa Murano, a former USDA under secretary for food safety and Susan Combs, a former Texas agriculture commissioner.
But on Monday a source close to the Trump transition team confirmed for Agri-Pulse that former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, 70, who interviewed with Trump on Nov. 30, will likely get the job. Up until Monday, Murano and Bonilla appeared to be the front runners for the position, but Perdue, a former veterinarian, ag business owner and member of Trump’s Agricultural Advisory Team, seemed to be the only one on the glide path toward the nomination.
The new nominee is expected to be announced officially this week.
Democrats and AFL-CIO remind Trump of trade policy promises. Donald Trump’s successful campaign broke the mold in many respects, but perhaps most notably on trade policy. Eschewing the general GOP support for profitable multilateral trade deals, Trump vowed to renegotiate or pull out of NAFTA and effectively kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). That created some unorthodox support for the new top Republican.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, was one of the first lawmakers to pronounce the TPP dead after Trump’s election and she is joining other Democrats and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka today to try to make sure Trump doesn’t backslide on his trade promises.
Trumka, DeLauro, Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio and eight other lawmakers are scheduled to hold a press conference today at 10 a.m. on Capitol Hill “to call on President-elect Trump to fulfil his promises to make U.S. trade policy benefit working people.”
Defazio, in a statement, said, “Given Trump has declared he will launch renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement … within his first hundred days of taking office, the speakers will outline what changes to the pact will be required for it to benefit working people.”
Cotton seen squeezing out some corn acres this year. Cotton is looking to provide a higher return this year than corn, spurring some farmers to make a switch in 2017, according to USDA Chief Economist Robert Johansson.
“We’re expecting to see an increase in planted cotton area, rising by 5.5 percent (in 2017) to about 10.5 million acres,” Johansson said in an audio posting on USDA’s web site. “We see cotton prices strengthening relative to corn and grain sorghum so that’s why we’re seeing a little bit of a switch-over – losing some corn acres to both (soybeans) and cotton.”
The new forecast from Johansson raises expectations for cotton planting from 10.15 million acres in the latest Dec. 9 publication of USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report.
The December WASDE report did not raise cotton acreage, but did boost the forecast for yields, production and exports.
USDA reports microloan program activity doubled from 2013 through 2015. A new study from the Economic Research Service shows that USDA’s Farm Service Agency issued $162.2 million worth of credit under its Microloans for Farmers program in 2015. That’s almost double the $88.8 million in loans that came out of the program in 2013, its first year of existence.
Data from the report paints a success for the program, which is aimed primarily at assisting beginning, veteran and historically socially disadvantaged farmers.
“Farmers belonging to targeted groups received 89 percent of all microloans, of which beginning farmers accounted for the majority … ” the study concluded.
Farms owned by women and racial and ethnic minorities received 35 percent of the credit under the program and 79 percent of those loans were also for beginning farmers, according to the study.
Kenya suffers setback in agricultural biotechnology sector. The government of Kenya, a net food importer and recipient of international food aid, has thrown a new roadblock in front of biotechnology acceptance, according to a recently released report from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
The Agriculture Committee for Kenya’s National Assembly in December issued an official recommendation that the country not lift its four-year ban on imports of genetically engineered food until new food safety legislation is crafted, the report said.
No biotech crops are grown for commerce in Kenya, but research and restricted field trials continue for several promising crops, including corn, cotton and sorghum.
Hunt's responds to non-GMO tomato criticism. The announcement by Tomato giant Hunt's that "you won’t find a single genetically modified tomato among our vines" has prompted more than a thousand comments on its Facebook page, many of which accuse the company of fear-mongering. Prominent GMO proponent Kevin Folta, who heads the University of Florida's horticultural sciences department, called Hunt's campaign "deceptive," noting that "there are no genetically engineered tomatoes commercially available." Said another commenter: "Your ignorance of science means I will never buy Hunts again. Heinz has always tasted better anyway."

Hunt's responded on Facebook, apologizing for the "confusion."  Said the company: "While it’s true that all tomatoes are non-GMO, there are tomato products that contain genetically engineered ingredients. We recently updated many of our tomato products including diced and crushed to meet Non-GMO Project Verification standards, so look for the seal at shelf."

That did not satisfy one commenter, who said, "The only thing you are sorry about is that you got caught in a blatant lie and are now trying to back pedal and reword your lie into something else."
Steve Davies and Phil Brasher contributed to this report.



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