At a time when U.S. farm numbers are stagnant, the organic sector continues to grow, said a recent report by the USDA. There were 14,217 certified organic farms that sold $7.55 billion worth of organic commodities last year. The number of farms was up 11 percent from the previous year, and total sales were up 23 percent, according to the agency’s Certified Organic Survey.
In a challenge to the Trump administration's drive to erase Obama-era regulations, the organic food industry accused USDA of unlawfully delaying animal welfare rules that give livestock on organic farms more elbow room than allowed at conventional operations. Livestock groups and their allies in Congress have alternated between ridiculing the organic livestock rule and trying to scrap it.
"Most of that group also lack experience working in agriculture. The 42 appointees include a number who do have farm-policy chops — but none of those tout time on the Trump campaign," said Politico in its Morning Ag newsletter. "Among this crop of appointees are a former cabana boy, a truck driver, an AT&T cellular phone salesman and the owner of a scented-candle company."
Cotton growers are headed for the largest cotton harvest in 12 years, said USDA's monthly crop report, although officials acknowledged they don't have a full picture of damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck much of the Cotton Belt. The USDA said it would conduct special surveys in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina to assess how much of the cotton, rice, peanut and soybean crops were harvested.
Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator for the National Organic Program at the USDA, said he was stepping down Sept. 30 after eight years in the position, and moving back to his home state of Washington while he considers new opportunities.
Building on a controversial USDA reorganization rolled out in May, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced further steps to realign “a number of offices within the U.S. Department of Agriculture in order to improve customer service and maximize efficiency.”
Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said President Trump’s nominee to head the USDA’s research division wouldn’t be a credible choice with the scientific community, according to Harvest Public Media. Trump nominated former conservative talk radio host and economics professor Sam Clovis to be the USDA’s chief scientist in July, setting off a wave of criticism.
An estimated 12.3 percent of U.S. households were food insecure in 2016, essentially unchanged from 12.7 percent in 2015, the USDA Economic Research Service said. But the figures still mean that more than 41 million Americans, or 15.6 million households, don’t get enough food.
President Trump nominated Bill Northey, the Iowa agriculture secretary, to be undersecretary of agriculture for farm production and conservation, the No. 3 post at the USDA. The president also nominated Nebraska state agriculture director Gregory Ibach to be undersecretary for marketing and regulation.
The USDA is opening a 60-day comment period on potential updates to the license requirements for people who breed, sell, or exhibit animals for commercial purposes. At the same time, the Humane Society of the United States says the USDA’s new “search tool” for accessing animal-abuse records “is still virtually unusable.”