Branstad covers for Perdue, as USDA makes first crop projections of the year

Traders believe U.S. farmers are stampeding into soybeans this year and are looking for confirmation at USDA's two-day Agricultural Outlook Forum, which opens this morning with speeches by President Trump's nominee for U.S. ambassador to China and the House Agriculture chairman, Michael Conaway of Texas. This is the first time since 1995 that the secretary of agriculture will not speak at the forum.

Hot issues could put the chill on farm bill fever

The Senate Agriculture Committee holds its first farm bill hearing today in Kansas, 19 months before expiration of current law. Congress has not enacted a farm bill on time since 1990, so an early start seems prudent — the committee held its kickoff in Washington last week. Yet, it's too early to push to the side other issues that could dominate 2017.

New EPA chief Pruitt worked closely with industry while state official

Released under court order, thousands of pages of emails show how Scott Pruitt, the new EPA administrator, "closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities" and anti-regulation political groups in opposing environmental regulations while Oklahoma attorney general, said the New York Times. "The correspondence points to the tension emerging as Mr Pruitt is now charged with regulating many of the same companies," said the newspaper, adding, "the emails are unlikely to cause Mr. Pruitt significant new problems."

In second year of tax, soda sales continue to fall in Mexico

Consumption of sugary beverages is down for the second year in a row in Mexico, suggesting "that the results of such a tax may be far more long-lasting," says the New York Times. It says a study published on the Internet by Health Affairs found a 5.5 percent decline in sales of sugary drinks in 2014, the first year of the tax, and sales in 2015 were 9.7 percent lower than in 2013, the year before the tax took effect.

Major areas of marine diversity under threat, says study

Six ocean “hotspots” of marine diversity are getting walloped by climate change and industrial fishing, says a study in the journal Science Advances.

Imports implicated in small but growing share of food illness outbreaks

Fish and produce are the imported foods associated with the most outbreaks of foodborne illness, say researchers who studied four decades of records. In a study published in the CDC journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, the scientists say imports were cited for an average of three outbreaks a year during 1996-2000, or 1 percent of outbreaks, and an average of 18 outbreaks per year from 2009-14, or 5 percent.

The bigger the farm, the more volatile the farm income

The total household income of crop farmers is 9 percent more volatile than that of livestock producers, say USDA economists in a report that drills into farm household income, which often includes off-farm employment. The report says farm income is more variable than income of non-farmers and that as farms get bigger, so does the degree of volatility of their income.

Immigrant farmworkers in Central Valley ‘terrified’ of future

In today’s uncertain climate for immigrants, undocumented workers in the farm communities of California’s Central Valley are terrified of what may come next, says Jesus Martinez of the immigrant rights group, CIVIC. “There’s a generalized fear about how the anti-immigrant policies can impact them, to the extent that even permanent residents are fearful about how their status might be revoked without any justification,” Martinez told FERN’s Ag Insider.

All EPA activities will be tethered to law, says new chief Pruitt

The new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued the agency 14 times while a state attorney general, told employees they will be "tethered to the statute" when writing regulations or enforcing them, with no allowance for shortcuts or stretches of authority. During a 12-minute speech to staffers during his first day on the job, Pruitt said EPA will avoid "abuses that occur sometimes," such as "using the guidance process to do regulation" and "regulation in litigation."

Don’t want to slice your own tomato? Ask the produce butcher.

In Manhattan, Whole Foods' latest store offers customers a “produce butcher” to cut up vegetables in real time — and for a price. According to the store’s sign, the produce butcher will “julienne (long, thin matchsticks), mince, dice, chop, and slice” produce for a dollar a pound, says Modern Farmer.