WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2017 - The intrigue surrounding President-elect Donald Trump’s search for an agriculture secretary has heightened with the visit to Trump Tower yesterday by Indiana agribusinessman Kip Tom.

Tom declined to talk about who he met with or which position was discussed. But ahead of the meeting he confirmed to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette that he was under consideration for ag secretary. Other sources suggested that his meeting might have been related to a different slot, perhaps as a special assistant to the president on agricultural issues – a position once held by fellow Hoosier Chuck Conner in the George W. Bush administration.

The transition team didn't alert the media to Tom's visit, something that has been done with other candidates for secretary.

Tom, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year, manages a large corn and soybean operation in his home state and also has business interests in Argentina. He served on the board of directors for the Indiana Economic Development Corp. under two governors: Mitch Daniels, and then Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Tom sought the GOP nomination in Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District last year but finished second in a six-person field to Jim Banks, who was easily elected to the seat in November. 

EPA nominee assures senators on biofuel policy. Trump’s nominee to run the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, met privately with nine Midwestern senators to discuss his approach to enforcing the Renewable Fuel Standard. Pruitt has in the past opposed the RFS, but Sen. Chuck Grassley, who hosted the meeting, and Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., both described the discussion as “very positive.” 

Grassley and his colleagues didn’t reveal any details of the discussion. But Grassley, with Pruitt standing at his side after the meeting, said that he committed to follow the “rule of law. … EPA is supposed to follow that law and not to back it down the way they have in this administration.”

Grassley was referring to EPA’s decisions to lower the statutory usage targets to maintain biofuel mandates in line with what the agency says the market can bear. 

Pruitt, who isn’t doing interviews during the confirmation process, didn’t comment.

The meeting also touched on the issue of whether the requirement to meet the biofuel mandates should continue falling on refiners or be shifted to blenders and retailers. Refiners are pushing EPA to move the “point of obligation” downstream.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who also met separately with Pruitt, said he assured her that “the role of the EPA is to enforce the law as written by Congress, and not undermine the RFS.”

EPA nominee Scott Pruitt, gray suit, meets with Roberts, Grassley and other senators on biofuel policy.

Vilsack ‘exit memo’: Protect farmers, school nutrition. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s official “exit memo,” posted by the White House web site, warns Congress that farmers are facing hard times and will need continued help from USDA. Vilsack also urges lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation to extend nutrition standards for schools. 

He said that farmer balance sheets remain strong despite the economic headwinds caused by the strong dollar and depressed commodity prices. But he said Congress needs to make sure USDA can provide adequate credit to farmers. 

Vilsack highlights dairy program for reform. He also said some farm programs need to be improved, singling out for mention the Margin Protection Program for dairy producers. MPP’s an interesting program for Vilsack to highlight given that he will soon head to a new job as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. Vilsack made no mention of cotton growers and their request for federal aid. 

Additionally, Vilsack appealed to lawmakers to restore the secretary’s authority to use the Commodity Credit Corp. to provide disaster assistance to producers. Congress banned such spending after Vilsack’s use of the program ahead of the 2010 elections. 

Vilsack noted that he’s leaving some critical unfinished business when it comes to biotechnology, including implementation of the GMO disclosure law enacted last summer. 

Vilsack’s exit memo is not to be confused with a separate memo that he is leaving his successor to read. He has been keeping those recommendations to himself. 

Chamber trade adviser gets White House post. A trade policy veteran with ties to the pro-trade U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been named to the White House staff. Rolf Lundberg will be deputy director of the new National Trade Council, where he will focus on Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” project. 

Lundberg could be seen as providing some balance to the incoming administration’s hawkish advisers on China and Mexico.

Lundberg was senior vice president for congressional and public affairs at the Chamber of Commerce and previously served in the George W. Bush administration and as a trade adviser in the Senate.

WIC study puts milk producers on defensive. A USDA-commissioned study is calling for providing less milk through the WIC nutrition assistance program and more fish, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. 

The recommendations by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are aimed at addressing nutrient deficiencies in the diets of pregnant women, new mothers and young children and would slightly reduce the cost of the program.

The big question is whether the new administration at USDA will do anything with the findings, since they are being released as Vilsack heads out the door. Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation, said the dairy recommendations “would undermine the value of the WIC program to needy Americans,” 

US poised to become net energy exporter. As hard as it may be to believe for anyone over age, say, 30, the United States could become a net exporter of energy over the next decade.

The Energy Information Administration analyzed the impact of a series of factors, including oil prices, technology improvements and economic growth, and found that in most cases the U.S. is likely to begin exporting more oil and gas than it imports, starting in about 2020. 

U.S. production could rise as much as 50 percent by 2040, according to the EIA analysis.

He said it. “Shouldn't we have a glass of ethanol?” - Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts at the beginning of the meeting with EPA nominee Scott Pruitt. 


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