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Challenges We Face

By former USDA Secretary  John R. Block.

I have a number of subjects I will put on the table today.  I want to open by reporting that I thought the National Association of Farm Broadcasters had an outstanding convention last week in Kansas City.  I loved it.  Then I went to my farm in Illinois on the weekend.  We finished our harvest.  Corn and beans are in the bin.  Our yields – although not even close to last year – were better than I expected.  Now we focus on buying fertilizer, seed and chemicals for next year’s crop.

We need better prices, and the best solution is to expand our exports.  Passage of USMCA (the US Mexico Canada Trade Agreement) would be a big first step.  House Democrats want to make sure the labor rules are enforceable.  Labor unions are almost always against trade deals.  Richard Trumka, head of AFL-CIO is in no hurry.  If Nancy Pelosi would allow a vote in the House, and she says it will be soon, it would pass.  Just get it done. 

Turn to the China Trade War.   Commerce Sec.  Wilbur Ross said, “China wants a deal.  We think we’d like to make a deal – We are down to the last details.”  Once this first phase is done, China will be a big buyer of our farm and ranch products.  Yes, we have and will continue to have some serious disputes with China, but they are back to buying our chicken.  That trade door was closed in January 2015 because we had avian influenza.  We have been free of that disease since 2017.  With China’s escalating demand for meat because of African Swine Fever, they are expected to buy $1-2 billion of our chickens.

Speaking of China – did you know that of the 1 million plus international students that come to the U.S. for higher education, 33.7% are Chinese?  It would be good for our country if we could build a strong economic relationship with China. That country has 1.4 billion people and they don’t have enough crop land to feed their population. 

My last issue is about glyphosate, better known as Roundup.  Roundup is by far the most used crop protection weed killer in our country.  Roundup has been under assault as a carcinogen risk to human health.  That attack has not stopped the use of Roundup, but now the charge is that it hurts the environment.  Roundup is a great weed killer, but the critics argue that we need the weeds for the bees and butterflies.  Okay. But we don’t want the weeds in our corn fields.

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 online to

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