August 2018
Ag Insight

Ag Insight

USDA’s Farmers.gov Receives $10 million in Funding for Development

The Technology Modernization Fund Board has awarded funding to support the development of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers.gov customer experience portal that helps better connect America’s farmers, ranchers, conservationists and private foresters with vital USDA resources and programs.

The board is chaired by the federal chief information officer for the Office of Management and Budget.

Farmers.gov is mobile device-friendly. For farmers, it can identify the most convenient USDA office locations. Additional functions to be added to the site include an interactive calendar, an online appointment feature, digital forms and a business data dashboard.

When the 2018 Farm Bill is signed into law, there will be plain language program descriptions and a tool to determine eligibility.

To learn about the website’s vision, visit www.farmers.gov/playbook

 

 

Honey Imports Now Account for
70 Percent of U.S. Supply

Since 2006, over half the honey supplied in the United States has been imported, with the total reaching 70 percent in 2017.

The 2017 volume represents the highest import level on record, continuing the longer-term trend of a growing share of honey supplies coming from foreign sources.

The largest foreign source of honey in 2017 was India, outpacing Vietnam and Argentina, the second and third leading sources, respectively.

Although U.S. honey imports were recorded for many different countries in 2017, the top five foreign suppliers (Vietnam, Argentina, India, Brazil and Ukraine) accounted for 77 percent of imports.

While imports have risen in quantity as well as in share of supply, national average honey prices for domestic honey remain high. In 2017, wholesale prices averaged 215.6 cents per pound, just below the 2014 record of 216.1 and over twice as high as prices in the mid-2000s.

 

Alabama Electric Co-op Receives USDA Loan for Improvements

Alabama’s Wiregrass Electric Cooperative will receive a $23.46 million loan to help build 55 miles of line, improve 23 miles and make other system improvements, including smart grid projects.

The loan to the Hartford-based utility is part of $309 million for 16 projects to improve rural electric facilities in 12 states through USDA’s electric infrastructure loan and loan guarantee program.

Funding for the loans comes from the federal government’s FY 2018 omnibus spending bill. The measure allocates resources for infrastructure investments, including $6.25 billion to USDA for electric loans. It directs Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to make investments in rural communities with the greatest infrastructure needs.

Wiregrass serves nearly 24,000 customers in six southeastern Alabama counties.

 

 
   
   

U.S. Food, Beverage Plant Employment
by the Numbers

The U.S. food and beverage manufacturing sector employed over 1.5 million people in 2016, the most recent period for which complete counts are available.

Within the U.S. manufacturing sector, food and beverage employees accounted for the largest share of employment (14.1 percent). The number was just over 1 percent of all U.S. nonfarm employment.

Over 35,000 food and beverage manufacturing plants are located throughout the nation. Meat and poultry plants employed the largest share of workers, followed by bakeries, and fruit and vegetable processing plants.

 

Agencies Align Oversight, Safety Efforts

The USDA and the Food and Drug Administration have announced the alignment of USDA’s Harmonized Good Agricultural Practices Audit Program with the requirements of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule.

The announcement is part of the two agencies’ ongoing effort to make the oversight of food safety stronger and more efficient and to streamline produce safety requirements for farmers.

"Specialty crop farmers who take advantage of a USDA Harmonized GAP audit now will have a much greater likelihood of passing a FSMA inspection as well," said Perdue. "This means one stop at USDA helps producers meet federal regulatory requirements, deliver the safest food in the world and grow the market for American-grown food."

While the requirements of both programs are not identical, the relevant technical components in the FDA Produce Safety Rule are covered in the USDA H-GAP Audit Program.

The alignment will help farmers by enabling them to assess their food safety practices as they prepare to comply with the Produce Safety Rule. However, the USDA audits are not a substitute for FDA or state regulatory inspections, officials noted.

The Produce Safety Rule, effective Jan. 26, 2016, establishes science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. The rule is part of the FDA’s ongoing efforts to implement FSMA.

Large farming operations were required to comply with the rule in January 2018. However, the FDA had previously announced inspections to assess compliance with the Produce Safety Rule for produce, other than sprouts, would not begin until spring 2019. Small and very small farms have additional time to comply.

 

 

Potatoes No. 1 in U.S. Veggie Consumption

Potatoes rank first among the vegetables Americans like most, according to data from the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Americans consumed an average of 156.3 pounds of fresh and processed vegetables per person, according to recent-year tabulations. But potatoes hold the top spot at 48.3 pounds per person, including both fresh potatoes and processed products (frozen, canned and dehydrated potatoes; potato chips; and shoestrings).

Canned tomatoes are the leading canned vegetable. Tomato consumption – fresh and canned – came in second at 28.3 pounds per person.

Americans consumed 7.7 pounds of fresh and dehydrated onions per person, almost a pound more than head lettuce consumption. Consumption of carrots, sweet corn, and romaine and leaf lettuce finished the list of America’s top seven vegetable choices.

 

CRP Application Period Continues Through Aug. 17

As part of its 33-year effort to protect sensitive lands and improve water quality and wildlife habitat on private lands, USDA will continue accepting applications for the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program until Aug. 17.

Eligible farmers, ranchers and private landowners can sign up at their local Farm Service Agency office.

FSA stopped accepting applications last fall for the CRP continuous sign up excluding applications for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and CRP grasslands. The pause, which ended June 4, allowed USDA to review available acres and avoid exceeding the 24 million-acre CRP cap set by the 2014 Farm Bill.

CRP enrollment currently is about 22.7 million acres.

In return for enrolling land in CRP, USDA, through FSA on behalf of the Commodity Credit Corporation, provides participants with annual rental payments and cost-share assistance. Landowners enter into contracts lasting from 10 to 15 years.

CRP pays producers who remove sensitive lands from production and plant certain grasses, shrubs and trees to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and increase wildlife habitat.

 

 

Growth Expected in Meat, Animal Products

USDA’s recently released commodity forecasts for 2019 indicate expected growth in U.S. production of beef, pork, broilers (young chickens), turkey, eggs and milk.

Generally, production growth in meat and animal products is supported by relatively low feed costs, the long-term trend of increasing animal weights for meat, and higher yields per animal for milk and eggs.

However, veal production is expected to decrease, while no growth is expected for lamb.

In 2019, growth of beef and turkey production is projected to exceed the respective 2014-18 averages of 1.2 percent and 0.4 percent. Growth of pork, broiler and egg production is expected to be relatively consistent with the respective 2014-18 average growth rates of 3 percent, 2.3 percent and 1.9 percent.

The forecast growth rate for milk production is down compared to the 2014-18 average of 1.7 percent.

In 2014-18, veal production contracted sizably, averaging annual decreases of 7.9 percent, but contraction has slowed in 2014-18. Similarly, in 2019, lamb saw average annual declines of 1.3 percent in 2014-18 and is expected to maintain production levels consistent with 2018.