WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2017 - The eyes of the nation will be on President Donald Trump tonight when he delivers a formal address to a joint session of Congress. There’s likely to be elements of the speech that the agriculture sector will like as well as some things that may rub producers and exporters the wrong way. (It’s not technically a State of the Union speech – his first will be in 2018)

Details of the speech aren’t available yet, but White House officials are saying that Trump may highlight efforts to roll back what many farmers see as over-burdensome government regulations. Trump’s newly sworn-in EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt promised on Saturday that he will do away with the Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS) and that may even make it into Trump’s speech tonight.

If you didn’t catch Pruitt’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday, he’ll be speaking again about his priorities today at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy Conference in Oxon Hill, Md.

But Trump might also speak about his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade pact with Japan, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mexico, Canada, Chile, Peru, Singapore and Brunei. The American Farm Bureau Federation predicted that lower tariffs and other trade barriers under the pact would provide U.S. farmers an additional $4.4 billion in revenue.  

Ratification of TPP was a priority for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which was looking forward to a reduction in Japanese tariffs on U.S. beef. Without the pact, Australia will continue to have a key edge over the U.S. in selling to Japan.

Senate votes to confirm Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary.The U.S. Senate voted 72 to 27 last night to approve billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross to be President Donald Trump’s commerce secretary. 

Ross, who is expected to play a major role in trade negotiation, told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing last month that he supported Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“I am not anti-trade. I am pro-trade, but I’m pro sensible trade – not pro trade that is to the disadvantage of the American market and the American manufacturing community,” Ross said during the hearing.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) was one of the first to put out a statement last night congratulating Ross.

“I look forward to working with him and President Trump on economic policies—such as reforming our broken tax code and creating strong, enforceable trade agreements—that will improve the lives of all Americans,” Brady said.   

Hemp industry takes its concerns to lawmakers. If you can’t make it to the Farm Bureau event today, maybe you can stop by the Hemp Expo being held at the foyer in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill.

During the Expo, more than 100 hemp business owners and farmers meet with their representatives to talk about the industry’s proposal for comprehensive farming legislation as well as high-stakes legal battles.

The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) has filed legal motions to try to stop the Drug Enforcement Agency from regulating hemp products as “'marijuana extracts” and block interstate commerce of hemp food products.

Heritage Foundation to hold farm bill forum. Farmers across the country may think it would be obvious that the farm economy is hurting – prices are low, debt is up and land values are on the decline – but the conservative Heritage Foundation is holding an event Wednesday to debate just how bad the situation is. 

“There are many claims that there are significant economic problems impacting agricultural producers,” the Foundation says in a description of the forum. “Are these claims justified? Is it accurate to view the rural economy as synonymous with the farm economy?  What is the real condition of the farm economy and how should it influence policymakers, especially in light of the development of a new farm bill?”

Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, 

Joshua Sewell, a senior policy analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense and 

Daren Bakst, a research fellow in agricultural policy, will be speaking.

Reduced rice planting may push up prices. U.S. rice farmers saw the prices they were getting drop in 2016, but an expected 17 percent reduction in planting this year will likely push prices back up, according to USDA analyst Rachel Trego.

Farmers will be planting less rice this year, but yields are expected to hit record highs, Trego said in an audio posting on USDA’s website. Even with the higher yields, production will still fall by about 11 percent, she said.

“Ending stocks are projected to decline and we expect slightly higher season average farm prices for long grain as well as medium and small grain ice,” Trego said.

Pacific Rim countries hold post-TPP meeting. The fate of the TPP is unclear now that the U.S. has pulled out of the pact, but many of those countries and others in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group are meeting this week in Vietnam to debate new ways to expand trade ties in the region.

Representatives of the 21 APEC countries – including the U.S., China, Japan and Russia - will sit down Thursday andFriday for talks on topics such as the “changing trade and economic landscape” and the “impact of rising anti-globalization.”

The Obama administration had hoped the TPP would lead the way in creating a new paradigm for trade in the Pacific Rim. Now attention is turning to the China-led trade deal called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The 16 countries negotiating RCEP are China, the Philippines, Japan, Australia, India, South Korea, New Zealand, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand.

Farm Bureau gives a thumbs-up to Starling. Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall last night announced his approval of Trump’s appointment of Ray Starling to the National Economic Council as the Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture.

“With about one quarter of all U.S. agricultural production destined for foreign markets, certainly, we know that trade and market development are critical issues,” Duvall said. “But economic policy comes in many forms, including how regulations affect the ability of our farmers and ranchers to remain competitive and profitable. Mr. Starling understands those challenges and we look forward to supporting him in this very important role.”