Issues of the Day

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block.

Let’s begin with hemp.  When I was a little boy, hemp was growing wild on the roadsides and ditches.  It was harvested to make rope during World War II.  It is a close relative of marijuana, but it is not the same.  Our government still outlawed the growing of hemp along with marijuana.  But now pot is getting a green light in most states and that has opened the door for hemp.

With surpluses and low prices for most farm crops, there is a wild rush to grow hemp to make money.  The number one state now is Kentucky.  Kentucky hemp sales skyrocketed last year by 3½ times the year before.  Prices doubled.  For this year the state of Kentucky has approved 50,000 acres for hemp production.  Farmers are still waiting to find out how USDA and FDA will regulate cannabis-based products.  At last – hemp has a future.

Farms in the Midwest have had to deal with a tough winter.  Recent floods have brought serious damage.  No question planting season will be delayed.  We just don’t know how long.  We keep hoping the weather uncertainty should lift grain prices.  A positive development – look to China.  With China’s African Swine Fever epidemic, their hog numbers have crashed by 16%.  Keep in mind pork is China’s number one meat.  China bought 52 million pounds of U.S. pork last week.  Hope we can get a trade deal.  Then – our grain exports will explode.

This week President Trump has been talking trade with Brazil.  Those talks may offer some hope for agriculture.  But be aware Brazil wants tariff free access to our sugar market.

Turn to Europe – President Trump says he wants the EU to get serious about our trade negotiations.  They refuse to even talk about AG trade.  That’s nothing new.  They have always looked for a non-tariff barrier, or any way to block our AG exports.  That’s not fair trade.

The EPA is moving to allow year-round use of E15 (15% ethanol fuel).  Consumers need to pressure fuel stations to make it available.  Big oil doesn’t want that competition.  Increasing the gallons of ethanol in our fuel is a big deal for corn farmers.  It is a good thing.  Costs less than petroleum and burns cleaner.

Finally, I don’t want to miss the chance to put this on the table – GE salmon (genetically engineered).  I want to buy it and eat it.  It has been approved by FDA for sale and should be in the supermarket this year.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

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