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Farm News for Monday, January 27th, 2020

President Trump Expected to Sign USMCA on Wednesday

White House and administration officials confirmed to CNN that the president will sign the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement on Wednesday. The new agreement was one of the president’s biggest priorities during his term and was passed out of Congress just days before the impeachment trial began. Trump is expected to tout this agreement as an important highlight during the 2020 presidential campaign, especially in the swing states that will see a lot of benefits from the pact. For example, the agreement opens the Canadian dairy market to U.S. farmers, something Trump is likely to point out in dairy-heavy states like Wisconsin. During a speech at the American Farm Bureau’s National Convention, Trump told attendees that the agreement will “massively boost exports for farmers, ranchers, growers, and agricultural producers.” The deal was originally signed by leaders of all three countries back in November of 2018. However, the text was later changed after months of closed-door negotiations between House Democrats and the Trump Administration. The updates added additional labor protections and got rid of controversial patent protections for certain drugs.

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New WOTUS Rule Appears Headed to the Courts

Environmental groups and Democratic states are already promising to sue over the new Waters of the U.S. Rule, which the Trump administration calls the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule.” The conservative-leaning Pacific Legal Foundation made a similar promise, calling the new rule not narrow enough. If the challenges happen to make it to the Supreme Court, the administration is banking on being able to win the backing of five of the justices who have a novel interpretation of the limits of federal power laid out under the Clean Water Act. Legal experts tell Politico that it’s a gamble that could result in a lasting win for the administration and its allies or a “spectacular loss.” Janette Brimmer, an attorney for the northwest office of Earthjustice, joined other environmentalists in calling the new rule “the dirty water rule.” She says, “President Trump’s administration wants our waters to burn again.” The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says, “The administration’s new definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ unravels safeguards in place since the landmark Clean Water Act first went into effect in 1972.”

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USDA Recruiting for a Trade Mission to the Philippines

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will lead a trade mission to the Philippines, designed to explore new business opportunities with the island nation. The trade mission will travel to Manila on April 20-23. They’re looking for agribusiness people who want to take part in the trip. Anyone interested should apply to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service by February 6. Morgan Haas is the FAS counselor for agricultural affairs in Manila. She says, “U.S. agricultural exports to the Philippines have more than doubled over the last decade, reaching a record $3 billion in 2018. Positive consumer attitudes and a healthy business climate point to continued growth potential going forward.” Haas also says local consumers in the country have an affinity for American brands, while the country’s rapidly expanding retail, food service, and food processing sectors offer robust opportunities for U.S. exporters looking to sell agricultural raw materials, high-value ingredients, and consumer-oriented food and beverage products. FAS office staff in the Philippines will arrange business meetings between trade mission delegates and local companies seeking to import American farm and food products. The trip to the Philippines is one of seven trade missions USDA has scheduled in 2020.

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Queen Approves Brexit, Potential New Ag Markets for U.S.

Britain’s effort to leave the European Union was finally approved by Queen Elizabeth last week, clearing the way for the United Kingdom to make the move to independence. Royal approval was the last obstacle toward Brexit. Now it’s up to the European Union leaders to formally ratify the law in a vote scheduled for Wednesday. The EU Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee voted by a large margin last week to approve the Brexit withdrawal deal, paving the way for the final vote this week. The UK is expected to then begin trade negotiations with the EU as well as the United States soon after the move is official. The Brexit move could be very good news for American farmers, but that’s only if the UK doesn’t keep the restrictive EU-based ag policy in place that limits trade. Gregg Doud, the chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, says a new trade pact with Britain is of utmost importance to him. “In my mind, that’s a legitimate top ten market for U.S. agriculture,” Doudd says. “When that move is official, we’ll be right there ready to begin negotiations with the U.K.” Last week at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sounded optimistic that a deal would get done once Brexit is completed.

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Legislators Send Letter to FDA on Dairy Labeling

Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, and Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, have led a bipartisan coalition that sent a letter to Stephen Hahn, the new Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. They’re asking Hahn to stop the use of dairy terms on the labels of non-dairy products. The Hagstrom Report says under the former commissioner, the FDA began to review how to enforce regulations on what may or may not be labeled a dairy product, and the public comment period on the topic has concluded. “Dairy farmers are now waiting for action from the FDA,” the senators say in the letter. “We encourage you to move swiftly to address this unfairness and ensure that dairy terms may only be used to describe products that include dairy.” The senators say imposter products should no longer be able to get away with violating the law and taking advantage of dairy’s “good name.” Baldwin and Risch are also the cosponsors of the Dairy Pride Act of 2019. The act requires non-dairy products made from nuts, seeds, plants, and algae to no longer be labeled with dairy terms like milk, cheese, and yogurt.”

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Beef, Pork Production Hit Record Highs in December

Pork and red meat production hit a monthly record in December. The USDA says pork production totaled 2.44 billion pounds, a nine percent jump over December of the previous year. Slaughter was also higher, up nine percent to 11.4 million head. The average live weight gaining was up two pounds to 288 pounds. Beef production totaled 4.72 billion pounds, a jump of eight percent over 2018. Slaughter increased to 2.75 million head, up seven percent from December of 2018. The five-pound gain for the average live weight was 1,373 pounds. December red meat production totaled 4.72 billion pounds; eight percent higher than the previous year. Unofficially, red meat production for 2019 was 54.5 billion pounds, three percent higher than in 2018. The USDA’s official red meat production numbers for 2019 come out in April. December’s dairy cow slaughter totaled 265,400 head, a jump of 9.3 million head from November and 4.2 million more than the previous December. The unofficial total for 2019 was 3.22 million head, a 71,000 head increase above the 2018 total.

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