The panelists and agenda have been established for the first in a series of five workshops on competition and regulatory issues that the U.S. Department of Justice and USDA are holding. The goals of the workshops are to “promote dialogue among interested parties and foster learning with respect to the appropriate legal and economic analyses of these issues, as well as to listen to and learn from parties with experience in the agriculture sector.” The agenda for the first workshop, set for March 12 in Ankeny, IA, includes:

Keynote Comments, Roundtable and Presentation of Issues: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; Christine Varney, Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, U.S. Department of Justice; Tom Miller, Attorney General, State of Iowa; Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. Invited: Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Congressman Leonard Boswell (D-IA), and Iowa Governor Chet Culver.

Seed Competitive Dynamics Panel: James MacDonald (moderator), Chief, Agricultural Structure and Productivity Branch, Economic
Research Service, USDA. Panelists: Ray Gaesser, Corning, IA, Soybean and Corn producer, vice president of the American Soybean Association and former president of the Iowa Soybean Association; Neil E. Harl, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and Life Sciences, emeritus professor of economics, Iowa State University, and member of the Iowa Bar; Dermot Hayes, professor of economics and finance, Pioneer chair in agribusiness, Iowa, State University; Diana Moss, vice president and senior fellow, American Antitrust Institute; and Jim Tobin, vice president of industry affairs, Monsanto Company.

Agricultural Trends Panel: Phil Weiser (moderator), deputy assistant attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice. Panelists: Brian Buhr, professor and head of Department, Applied Economics, University of Minnesota; Rachael Goodhue, associate professor, Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis; Mary Hendrickson, Extension associate professor of rural sociology, University of Missouri; John Lawrence, professor of economics, Iowa State University; Chuck Wirtz, pork producer, Whittemore, IA; and, Patrick Woodall, research director, Food & Water Watch.

Enforcer Roundtable Discussion Panel: Mark Tobey (moderator), special counsel for state relations and agriculture, U.S. Department of Justice. Panelists: Steve Bullock, Montana attorney general; Richard Cordray, Ohio attorney general; John Ferrell, deputy under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, USDA; Stephen Obie, director, Division of Enforcement, Commodity Futures Trading Commission; and, William Stallings, assistant section chief, Transportation, Energy and Agriculture Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice.

Time at the end of the workshop is reserved for public comments.

Producer Groups Educate Congress on Antibiotics — Livestock and poultry groups briefed congressional staff on the facts about the “importance of tools” like antibiotics in raising healthy food animals. The briefings were co-hosted by National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Milk Producers Federation, National Turkey Federation, American Meat Institute and National Meat Association. Timothy Cummings, Mississippi State University, said, “Taking FDA-approved animal drugs off the market would leave farmers and veterinarians with very limited options for preventing and controlling disease in livestock and poultry, which would have serious repercussions for animal health and preventing food-borne disease, with the strong likelihood that there would be no improvement in human health.”

USDA Predicts Export Growth in 2010 — USDA is predicting U.S. agricultural exports will reach an estimated $100 billion for fiscal year 2010. This is an increase of $3.5 billion compared to last fiscal year. Agricultural imports are estimated to reach $77.5 billion, an increase of $4 billion. USDA is expecting beef and pork exports to rise in 2010, while poultry exports are expected to decline. Oilseed exports are estimated to continue to increase. China now imports 54% of world soybeans.

Expand Agricultural Exports to Cuba — Congressmen Collin Peterson (D-MN), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) have introduced a bipartisan bill, H.R. 4645, the “Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act.” The legislation would eliminate the need to go through banks in other countries to conduct agricultural trade and the accompanying fees those banks charge. The bill would also require agricultural exports to Cuba to meet the same payment requirements as exports to other countries. This means payment would be required when the title of the shipment changes hands, not in advance.

Healthy Food Financing Initiative — The administration outlined the details of its proposed $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative. The goal of this program is to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities. The initiative will promote intervention that expands access to nutritious foods, including developing and equipping grocery stores and other small businesses and retailers selling healthy food in communities that currently lack these options. These areas, according to USDA, are typically served by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer little or no fresh produce. This initiative will be supported by USDA, Treasury Department, and Health and Human Services (HHS). According to the administration:

• USDA's proposed funding level of $50 million will support more than $150 million in public and private investments in the form of loans, grants, promotion, and other programs that can provide financial and technical assistance to enhance access to healthy foods in under-served communities, expand demand and retail outlets for farm products, and increase the availability of locally and regionally produced foods.

• The Treasury Department will support private sector financing of healthy foods options in distressed urban and rural communities through the new markets tax credit (NMTC) and financial assistance to treasury-certified community development financial institutions (CDFIs).

• HHS will dedicate up to $20 million in Community Economic Development program funds to the Healthy Food Financing Initiative. Through the Community Economic Development program, HHS will award competitive grants to community development corporations to support projects that finance grocery stores, farmers markets and other sources of fresh, nutritious food.
P. Scott Shearer
Vice President
Bockorny Group
Washington, D.C.