READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Tuesday, September 6th…

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Sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation

Congress Back in Session This Week

After a seven-week recess, Congress returns to session this week as many have little expectation lawmakers will accomplish much of anything with the November elections looming. Topping the discussion is likely to be the highly debated Zika virus funding, marred in a spat between Democrats and Republicans over last-minute additions to the bill. For agriculture, the wish list remains long regardless of the expectations. Farm groups plan to push support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which is expected to be sent to Congress after the elections in the lame-duck session. One need for Congress before the election is the passage of appropriation bills, including funding for the Department of Agriculture. However, the expectation again is Congress will pass a catch-all spending bill, known as a continuing resolution. Farm Groups are also trying to jumpstart discussions on the next Farm Bill, saying pressure from falling commodity prices and lower farm income is forcing the need to reassess Farm Bill programs sooner rather than later. Senators say however, those discussions seem much more likely next spring. Energy and tax incentive bills are also issues likely to see some action in the short session before lawmakers head back to the campaign trail.

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USDA Announces Additional Farm Loan Funding

The Department of Agriculture Friday announced more funding for farm operating loans. Farm Service Agency administrator Val Dolcini announced the funding to assist more than 1,900 approved applicants who are awaiting farm operating loans. The funds give USDA $185 million in additional lending for direct and guaranteed farm operation loans. The funding will address up to 30 percent of the projected shortfall in funding for the program before the next fiscal year which starts October first. FSA loan funds are in higher demand this year, given the farm economy status. FSA this year has guaranteed loans to more than 6,400 customers for farm ownership and operating purposes. USDA also reminded lenders and potential borrowers of the loan guarantee programs available from the Small Business Administration. USDA says SBA programs can provide a financing alternative for agricultural producers when their lender is unable to close an FSA guaranteed loan, such as when funds are exhausted for the fiscal year.

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More Opposition for Canada, EU Trade Deal

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada faces more opposition from an EU member country. Government officials in Austria are ready to confront the EU regarding Austria’s opposition because the agreement contains “many of the same problems as one being negotiated with the U.S.,” according to Reuters. The EU and the U.S. are embattled in negations of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which a trade official in Germany last month said talks on the deal had “de facto failed.” Combined with the political rhetoric in the U.S. against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, future global trade deals are on a shaky foundation, at best. In regards to TTIP and the Canada-EU deal, Austria reportedly has concerns the trade deals could compromise food safety standards. Political leaders in Austria also object to allowing companies to challenge government policies if a company feels regulations put create a disadvantage. The European Commission wants the Canada-EU trade deal approved by EU states before a planned EU-Canada summit at the end of October.

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Tight Wheat Supply for India Brings Hope for Price Increase

Wheat traders and the industry remain hopeful tight supplies of the commodity in India could provide a small boost to global prices, and a potential rebound from 10-years lows. Commodity traders expect India to increase international purchases significantly over the coming months as the nation’s wheat stocks are at decade lows, thanks to lower domestic production. India’s domestic prices for wheat are at record-high levels and could climb further this year. A wheat industry expert from India tells Reuters “the supply situation is getting very serious,” and that reviewing import policies may “be a viable and rational option to bridge the gap between demand and supply.” India has already bought near 600,000 metric tons of wheat this year, the most in nine years. But trade experts expect India to reduce or even abolish the 25 percent import tariff to make imports cheaper and ease a domestic supply squeeze.

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Smithfield Foods Donations to Help Louisiana Flood Victims

Smithfield Foods is donating 80,000 pounds of protein to flood victims in Louisiana. The food will be distributed by the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. Smithfield also donated the use of a refrigerated trailer to store the food products. In a news release, Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank CEO Michael Manning says the contributions will “go a long way to help feed the community” recovering from historic flooding. To date, more than 30 parishes in Louisiana have been declared disaster zones with limited access to common resources, including food. Smithfield’s protein donation is part of its Helping Hungry Homes program that already provided 25,000 pounds of protein to flood victims, which Operational BBQ Relief and Sam’s Club transformed into meals. In 2015, Smithfield says the Helping Hungry Homes program provided 18.8 million servings of food through food banks, school nutrition programs, disaster relief and community outreach programs.

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U.S. Watermelon Imports Growing

New data from the Department of Agriculture shows the majority of watermelons consumed in the U.S. are produced domestically, but imports are growing rapidly. USDA says watermelon imports accounted for 1.5 billion pounds, or a third of domestic use in 2015, up from 11 percent in 2000 and seven percent in 1990. Part of the increase in imports can be attributed to the decline watermelon acreage in the United States. USDA says watermelon acreage has dropped near 50 percent in the last 25 years. However, increases in productivity from a greater use of irrigation and improved varieties helped keep annual production levels regularly above 3.5 billion pounds. U.S. watermelon consumption was estimated at 4.9 billion pounds in 2015. Watermelons can be grown in most parts of the United States, but do best in the South due to long growing seasons and consistently warm temperatures. Florida, Texas, California, Georgia and South Carolina accounted for 70 percent of U.S. production last year.

SOURCE: NAFB News Service

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