WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2017 - It’s officially the last week of the Obama administration and there’s still been no announcement on who will be President Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Friday that a decision will be made “sometime soon.”
If you think that means it will happen before the Trump inauguration this week, you might be right. But maybe not. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, speaking Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation, said: “We may well have the entire cabinet named before the inauguration.”
Tom Vilsack isn’t hanging around USDA until that happens. Friday was the now former USDA secretary’s last day on the job – he actually left the building before noon – and Michael Scuse was named acting chief of the agriculture department.
But Scuse won’t be in the top USDA spot for long. Even if the Trump administration wasn’t taking over this week, Delaware Governor-elect John Carney has announced that Scuse is his choice to be state’s next agriculture secretary. 
Carney, who is scheduled to be sworn in today, said in a statement: “Agriculture is crucially important to our economy and way of life, particularly in southern Delaware. Over the next four years, we’ll take action to preserve Delaware’s farmland, help farmers better protect our environment, and reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens to help smaller farmers succeed. Michael is uniquely qualified to lead that work.”

FSIS’ Almanza to remain high on USDA food chain. Political appointees are leaving USDA in droves as the Obama administration winds to a close, but Alfred Almanza will be staying on under the Trump administration, sources tell Agri-Pulse. While Almanza holds the political post of deputy undersecretary for food safety, he also holds the non-political position of administrator for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Almanza was named FSIS administrator during the George W. Bush administration and later given the deputy under secretary title. Almanza met recently with Trump transition officials, according to sources. Although his official title will be FSIS administrator, it’s expected that he will be named acting deputy under secretary for food safety under whoever Trump chooses as the next agriculture secretary.
Pork group fears last minute animal welfare standards rule from Obama administration. The National Pork Producers Council is sounding the alarm that it believes the USDA, in its final days of the Obama administration, is preparing to publish a final rule that would include new animal welfare standards into the National Organic program.
The NPPC, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association were all quick to assert their opposition after the USDA unveiled its proposal for the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule.
The organic industry is united in support of the rule that producers hope will set them further apart from traditional farming and ranching.
But groups that represent mostly non-organic producers complain that the rule is unscientific and hurts the overall agriculture sector.

“This is precisely the type of executive branch overreach that Congress will reign in through regulatory reform,” said NPPC President John Weber in a statement. “Animal production practices have nothing to do with the concept of ‘organic.’ These new standards will present serious challenges to livestock producers and add complexity to the organic certification process, creating significant barriers to existing and new organic producers.”

A USDA spokesperson confirmed that the agency plans to announce the final rule on Wednesday.

Organic checkoff advances.  USDA is also expected to announce today that it is seeking public comments on a nationwide check-off program for the organic industry. The proposal, first authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, is expected to generate millions of dollars annually to support research, education and promotion of the organic brand.
SCOTUS to make decision on WOTUS. The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will take up a dispute over which courts have authority over legal challenges to the Waters of the U.S. rule, known commonly as WOTUS,
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati claimed jurisdiction over legal challenges to WOTUS before it issued a stay on the federal rule that was written by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to help define which bodies of water can be regulated by federal agencies.
Farm groups argue that the Supreme Court should allow lower district courts to rule on the legality of WOTUS because they are closer to the areas that would be impacted if the federal rule were ever to be enacted.
Scott Yager, a lawyer for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in reaction to the SCOTUS announcement:  “The Supreme Court’s decision to hear our appeal is a victory for America’s cattle producers and all private property owners across the country. It shows that the Court has a continued interest in private property rights and we look forward to oral arguments this spring.”
Stronger yields seen pushing down cotton prices. USDA economists made news last week by lowering production forecasts for both corn and soybeans, but the opposite happened for cotton. Normally that would mean farmers should expect to get less for their crops, but Chairman of the World Agricultural Outlook Board Seth Meyer says the USDA isn’t changing its price prediction this month.
Meyer, in a USDA audio posting, says that the stronger cotton yields and production will boost stocks, but he also stressed that exports will be higher than expected. The USDA raised its forecast for cotton production last Thursday to 16.96 million bales for the 2016-17 marketing year, up from a previous prediction of 16.5 million bales. That caused a small boost for ending stocks, but USDA also raised its forecast for exports to 12.5 million bales, a 300,000-bale increase from the December forecast.
Meyer stressed there would be “no change in the mid-point price of 67 cents (per pound)” for the 2016-17 marketing year. The average farmgate cotton price for 2015-16 is about 61 cents per pound.#30               

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