U.S. agricultural exports reached a record $136.3 billion in calendar year 2011.  There was an increase in both the value and volume.  This is $20.5 billion over the previous record set in calendar year 2010.  According to USDA, exports of almost all major U.S. commodities rose in 2011.  Grains were the largest contributor to the overall record at $37.7 billion, an increase of $9.2 billion over 2010.  Cotton saw the biggest year-to-year increase, up 44% and reaching $8.5 billion.  Pork and dairy exports set records at $6 billion and $4.8 billion, respectively.  Beef exports were at an all-time high of $5.4 billion.  Beef volume surpassed the 2003 levels (the last year before the bovine spongiform encephalopathy [BSE] case in Washington State), which disrupted U.S. beef exports.  Both value and volume of beef rose. 

Call to Delay E15 Implementation — The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology approved H.R. 3199, which would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to coordinate with the National Academy of Sciences to “comprehensively assess scientific and technical research” on gasoline blends with 15% ethanol (E15).  Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), author of the legislation, said, “When it comes to a decision of this magnitude that would impact every American who owns a car, boat or lawnmower, we must base our decisions on sound science, not political expediency.  In small engines, E15 is downright dangerous and the EPA has no credible plan to stop misfueling.  If ethanol is going to be the ‘fuel of the future,’ then there should be no problem conducting independent, comprehensive scientific analysis of its effect on American drivers.” 

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) said it is “disappointed to see the House committee vote in favor of a piece of legislation that will hamper consumer choice in fuel.  The EPA has thoroughly tested and approved the use of E15 in motor vehicles.  This legislation will create further government bureaucracy and generate unnecessary costs to American taxpayers for something that has already been appropriately vetted.”  Those supporting the bill included the American Meat Institute, American Petroleum Institute, Boat Owners Association of the United States, Friends of the Earth, Milk Producers Council, Motorcycle Industry Council and National Turkey Federation.  EPA earlier approved E15 use for passenger vehicles from 2001 and newer.  It has not finalized registration details.  This legislation would delay EPA from making a final ruling for at least two years. 

FSIS to Delay Non-0157 STEC Implementation — The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced it is extending for 90 days the implementation date for testing of six additional shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli  (STEC) serogroups (non-0157:H7).  FSIS said this is to provide additional time for establishments to validate their test methods and detect these pathogens prior to entering commerce.  There is concern within the meat industry about the cost of the new regulation and the accuracy of the testing methods available.  A coalition of domestic and international meat groups recently wrote Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking USDA to delay the implementation of FSIS’ new policy on STECs until the research at the University of Nebraska was completed.

No Increase in Truck Weights — The highway bill, H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012, that the House of Representatives plans to consider does not grant states the option to allow trucks with a gross vehicle weight of up to 97,000 lb. with the addition of a sixth axle.  The bill, passed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, requires the Secretary of Transportation to complete a three-year study of the safety, handling characteristics and road wear patterns of heavier trucks and the extent to which freight would be diverted from other modes of transportation.            

Administration to Present its Fiscal Year 2013 budget– With USDA’s recent announcement of office closing and reorganization of various mission areas there is great interest in what additional cuts may be proposed for USDA.