Farm News- 3/24/20

Perdue: USDA Actively Monitoring Commodity Markets

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says the Department of Agriculture is “actively monitoring all commodity markets and the flow of food.” The comments on Twitter come as a reply to industry requests last week that USDA protects commodity markets from manipulation. Perdue says, “We are paying special attention to the difference in prices from the farm gate to the grocery shelf.” The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sent a letter to Perdue last week, along with lawmakers, urging relief for cattle producers stemming from COVID-19. The coronavirus sent cattle markets lower, at a time when consumer demand has increased. NCBA states, “This price disturbance has created tremendous uncertainty in the cattle industry, and has come at a time when cattle producers are singularly focused on maintaining adequate supply to meat and food processors.” The organization says, “it is critical that cattle producers are empowered to maintain operational certainty as they work to ensure our nation’s food security during this crisis.”

USDA NASS Reports Remain on Schedule

The Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service statistical reports remain on schedule amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including the March 26 Hogs and Pigs and March 31 Prospective Plantings reports. NASS reports the agency also continues to collect data for all upcoming reports, asking farmers and ranchers to complete their surveys online, if they don’t already respond that way. To protect the health and safety of producers, partners, and employees, NASS has suspended in-person data collection at least until April 3, 2020. NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer says, “We are making every effort to produce the U.S. crop, livestock, and economic statistics that the nation counts on, but to do that responsibly, we are following guidance to slow the spread of coronavirus.” Ensuring that responses are returned on time means little or no additional outreach is needed. USDA says online response is faster and more convenient for producers. To respond online at, producers will need their unique 17-digit survey code from the questionnaire or letter received in the mail.

USMEF Applauds Expanded Access to China

A recent move to expand pork and beef access to China will benefit U.S. producers and exporters, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. The Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recently updated its Export Library for China to reflect expanded access for U.S. beef and pork. The changes were among the provisions negotiated in the U.S.-China Phase One trade agreement. U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Dan Halstrom says with much broader access for U.S. beef, “the U.S. industry is well-positioned to expand its presence in the largest and fastest-growing beef market in the world.” U.S. pork and beef still face retaliatory duties in China, but a tariff exclusion process implemented by the Chinese government earlier this month is providing some level of relief. USMEF states that while elimination of all retaliatory duties is still the best way for China to level the playing field for U.S. red meat, the exclusion process is expanding opportunities for importers and the U.S. industry.

Gas Prices Continue to Plummet

For the fourth straight week, the national average price of gasoline has fallen, plummeting 12.8 cents over the last week to $2.08 per gallon, according to GasBuddy. The average price of diesel, meanwhile, fell 6.5 cents to $2.66 per gallon. Gas prices have spent virtually all of March marching lower, with the drop continuing as the coronavirus destroys oil demand globally, according to Patrick DeHaan of GasBuddy. DeHaan says, “there’s plenty more room for prices to drop, putting 99 cents per gallon prices as a strong possibility for perhaps many more stations than we previously anticipated.” Crude oil prices have continued to be under heavy selling pressure due to the coronavirus’ effects on global demand for products including gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Additionally, a meeting March 5 by OPEC and Russia on how to stem the previous decline in oil resulted not in a production cut, but a feud between the two, with Saudi Arabia and Russia both saying they were going to raise oil production.

DFA Dean Foods Deal Withdrawn

Dairy Farmers of American and Dean Foods announced the withdrawal of a plan for DFA to purchase Dean assets. DFA remains in the running to purchase Dean assets, but the move allows for a competitive bidding process. In a statement, Dean Foods says, “by avoiding unnecessary litigation regarding procedure and bid protections for DFA, all parties involved, including DFA, will focus on developing competitive and value-maximizing bids.” The Kansas City Business Journal Reports DFA, based in Kansas City, remains in the running to buy the nation’s largest milk processor, but it no longer has an inside track. Dean Foods filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November, and will have its assets sold in a court-administered auction process.  In February, DFA made an offer to buy Dean Foods for $425 million-plus the assumption of various liabilities. Officials with Dean and DFA said Friday that they mutually agreed to withdraw the request that DFA’s bid be considered the baseline.

USDA Announces New World Agriculture Outlook Board Chair

Chief Economist Robert Johansson Monday announced the appointment of Dr. Mark Jekanowski as the World Agricultural Outlook Board Chairman. Jekanowski is currently acting Board chairman and will assume his new duties on March 29. Johansson says Jekanowski brings “extensive experience in domestic and global agricultural commodity markets and deep understanding of the World Agricultural Board and its unique mission Jekanowski will be responsible for leading the development and release of the monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report. He will also serve as program chairman for USDA’s largest annual meeting, the Agricultural Outlook Forum. Jekanowski joined the World Agricultural Outlook Board in 2019 as deputy chairman. Before that, he was with USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), first serving as chief of the Crops Branch, and later as deputy director for the ERS commodity outlook program. Previously, Jekanowski was a senior vice president and head of the Washington office of Informa Economics.


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