Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack held a roundtable discussion with various stakeholders to discuss views on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Secretary Vilsack said, “Much work has been done over the past five years to engage producers in developing an animal identification system that they could support. However, many of the issues and concerns that were initially raised by producers, such as the cost, impact on small farmers, privacy and confidentiality and liability, continue to cause debate.” USDA will conduct a future nationwide listening tour to seek additional stakeholders concerns and solutions regarding NAIS. There is growing concern among key congressional members that USDA has spent millions of dollars on NAIS and there are still a large number of premises that are not even registered.

Agriculture Asks for Resolution of Mexican Truck Issue — Over 140 agricultural organizations and companies wrote President Barack Obama urging him to work “expeditiously to resolve” the Mexican trucking issue that has resulted in tariffs on U.S. exports to Mexico. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Cross Border Trucking Pilot Program with Mexico was terminated by Congress earlier this year. Opponents of this program have argued that Mexican trucks lack adequate safety.

The United States is now in violation of its bilateral trade obligations with Mexico on international trucking. Mexico instituted retaliatory tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of U.S. manufactured and agricultural exports. The letter to the President said, “…we strongly urge you to work with Congress and quickly resolve the Mexican trucking issue to end retaliatory tariffs. Until this issue is resolved, Mexico’s retaliation will continue to economically harm U.S. farmers, manufacturers and service providers and those who work in these industries.” Those signing the letter included American Farm Bureau Federation, American Meat Institute, American Peanut Council, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean Association, Corn Refiners Association, International Dairy Foods Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Grange, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, U.S. Meat Export Federation and USA Rice Federation.

Obama Eases Restrictions on Cuba — The Obama administration announced it was easing travel restrictions for Cuban Americans and allowing them to send money to relatives living in Cuba. President Barack Obama directed the Departments of State, Treasury and Commerce to:

  • Lift all restrictions on family visits to Cuba;
  • Remove restrictions on remittances;
  • Authorize greater telecommunication links with Cuba; and
  • Revise gift parcel regulations
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said, “The White House’s decision this week to ease travel for Cuban Americans and relax financial restrictions to Cuba is one step closer to easing all trade restrictions with the country. We are very encouraged by President Obama’s actions and appreciate the administration’s prompt action on the issue. In this step-by-step process, the Farm Bureau would also like the administration to consider agricultural provisions.”

Study: 20% Ethanol Causes No Change in Automotive Fuel Systems — A study by the Minnesota Center for Automotive Research at Minnesota State University found that increasing ethanol blended into gasoline from 10% to 20% causes no significant change in the performance of automotive fuel systems. The study included eight models of fuel pumps running each model using one of three different fuels – gasoline, E10 and E20. Pumps with E20 showed less wear than those run with gasoline.

Ethanol and Food Prices — The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in a recent report, “The Impact of Ethanol Use on Food Prices and Greenhouse – Gas Emissions,” found that ethanol contributed just “0.5 and 0.8 percentage points of the 5.1% increase in food prices” from April 2007 to April 2008. The report said, “Over the same period (April 2007 to April 2008), certain other factors – for example, higher energy costs – had a greater effect on food prices than did the use of ethanol as a motor fuel.”

ACRE Enrollment Opens April 27 — USDA announced that producers can enroll in the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program beginning April 27. ACRE is the new option to the traditional counter-cyclical payments provided in the 2008 farm bill. Producers will have until Aug. 14 to make their decision for the 2009 crop. Producers who elect the ACRE program for a farm agree to: 1) forego counter-cyclical payments; 2) accept a 20-percent reduction of the direct payments; and 3) accept a 30-percent reduction in loan rates for all commodities produced on the farm. More information about the ACRE program is available at local Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices or visit www.fsa.usda.gov.

Congress Returns Next Week — Congress returns next week to a full agenda. Priorities will be the conference report on the budget and to begin the appropriations process for fiscal year 2010. The House Agriculture Committee plans hearings on crop insurance and food safety.

P. Scott Shearer
Vice President
Bockorny Group
Washington, D.C.