WASHINGTON – Jan 13, 2017 - Concerns in agriculture about President-elect Donald Trump’s trade policy are getting attention on Capitol Hill. Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross, who is supposed to take the lead on trade issues, will get a confirmation hearing next week. And yesterday, Trump’s nominee for U.S. trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, met with Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

Too many trade cooks? Roberts told reporters that he stressed to Lighthizer the need for USTR to take a lead role in protecting agricultural exports. “There seems to be too many cooks in the kitchen . … You’ve got to stop and figure out who’s in charge here.” Roberts said, referring to Trump’s trade team.

In past administrations, USTR has clearly had the lead role on trade policy. But in addition to assigning that role to Ross, Trump has formed a White House trade council led by China hawk Peter Navarro, and the president-elect has named his longtime personal attorney, Jason Greenblatt, as his “special representative for international negotiations”

Lighthizer, an international trade lawyer who was a deputy USTR during the Reagan administration, declined to take any questions after his meeting with Roberts. HIs confirmation before the Senate Finance Committee has not been scheduled. 

Roberts, who serves on Finance, said he looked forward to hearing more from Lighthizer “about his intentions to strengthen and expand trade.”

Transition team remains quiet on Ag. Trump’s inauguration is one week from today, but the transition team is giving no hint of when he will name an agriculture secretary, the sole remaining opening on his cabinet. 

Roberts said he didn’t know when a nomination would be coming, but that “farmers, ranchers and rural small town America” got Trump elected and are counting on him to name an agriculture secretary “who will be their champion.”

Yesterday, Trump met with several candidates for positions at the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development, but no new meetings on agriculture were announced. 

EPA finalizes pollinator policy. A new policy to protect bees from pesticides has pleased a major pesticide manufacturer but a major environmental group says the plan was weakened unnecessarily.

Bayer CropScience said that the policy "includes both science-based protections for pollinators and gives growers flexibility in managing their operations" but also said it would be conducting an in-depth review.

CropLife America, the trade group for pesticide manufacturers, stressed the need for cooperation between beekeepers and farmers but also said it is still reviewing the policy.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth says that "based on the growing body of science that has been published since EPA released its proposed policy, EPA should have strengthened, not weakened, this policy. This policy does not address the fact that many bee-toxic chemicals stay in our environment for months to years."

EPA says it made adjustments to the proposal to "reduce potential economic impact." The policy focuses on protecting bees used by managed pollination services but EPA said wild bees would probably benefit from it, as well. 

EPA says the policy is not a regulation or an order, and doesn’t "legally compel changes to pesticide product registrations." But in its announcement of the policy, the agency says it will begin sending letters to registrants describing steps that must be taken to incorporate the new labeling.

Stabenow slams House CFTC bill. A CFTC reauthorization bill that Republicans have pushed through the House is going to face the same tough resistance in the Senate that previous versions did. 

The bill raises a new reason for Democrats to oppose it because it would freeze spending for the CFTC though 2021 at the current level, $250 million. The previous House bills that died in the Senate didn’t have a spending cap.

“Providing the CFTC with urgently needed resources is a critical first step to ensure fair, transparent, and competitive derivatives markets for all market participants,” says the Senate Agriculture Committee’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. She also says the bill “irresponsibly handcuffs” the CFTC.

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, says many market participants have been “struggling to comply with the burdensome rules” that the commission has implemented under the Dodd-Frank law.  

USDA emissions analysis boosts ethanol. A new USDA report showing that corn-based ethanol has a bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions than many have thought is going to make it harder for opponents of the industry to make a case against the Renewable Fuel Standard. The study also could address concerns among environmentalists about corn-based ethanol.

The analysis found that ethanol is 43 percent lower in carbon emissions than 2005-era gasoline and can be as much as 76 percent lower depending on the efficiency of biorefineries.  

USDA’s chief economist, Rob Johansson, says earlier studies relied on projections of farm sector impacts and future ethanol production systems. The new study, he says, is based on how ethanol plants and the farm sector have actually performed. 

Wheat acreage slumps again. Farmers have planted the smallest amount of acreage to winter wheat since 1909, USDA says.  Acreage is estimated at 32.4 million acres, down 10 percent from last year and 18 percent below 2015.

Kansas State University economist Dan O’Brien tells Agri-Pulse that wheat prices in Kansas have fallen near loan rates and poor demand for exports is keeping last year’s crop in storage. Farmers don’t see much chance for improvement. “Farmers are pessimistic about the situation improving much in the coming year,” he said.

Flat prices seen for corn, soybeans. Farmers looking for relief from low corn and soybean prices, meanwhile, found little solace in USDA’s latest WASDE report.  USDA reduced its estimates for the 2016 corn and soybean crops, but they still look to be the biggest ever. 

USDA sees a corn crop of 15.2 billion bushels, down 78 million bushels from last month’s estimate but way bigger than last year’s 13.6 billion bushels.

She said it. “If we are serious about having a financial system that works for Main Street and not just Wall Street, we need a strong, effective cop on the beat.” - the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, on the CFTC.

Bill Tomson, Steve Davies and Daniel Enoch contributed to this report. 


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