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Jack Block: This and That August 2018

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

Good news – ethanol exports are up 33% so far this year.  By year’s end, we should exceed last year’s record of 1.38 billion gallons.

Turn to hogs – we have raised hogs on my farm all my life.  I know that a hog barn doesn’t smell like flowers blooming.  However, hog farms and other livestock and poultry farms have faced a growing number of lawsuits in recent years.  Smithfield Foods just got hammered with a lawsuit verdict awarding $473.5 million to 6 North Carolina residents.  They don’t like the smell of hogs.  The divide between urban and rural America just gets wider.  The farm community will not be as upset with a big corporation like Smithfield having to pay so much, but if it were a family farm, they would be broke.  I must admit from my hog farmer point of view that when hog prices are low, their odor is not appealing, but when prices are high, they don’t smell bad at all.

Let’s turn to the Food and Drug Administration.  FDA Commissioner Gottlieb reminds us that “milk” is a product of lactating animals.  Almond “milk,” soy “milk,” coconut “milk,” etc. should not use the word “milk.”  We will see where this goes. 

Last week, I talked about lab-grown “meat.”  Will they call it meat?  Our Secretary of Agriculture and the FDA Commissioner are both competing to be in charge of regulating the new lab foods that will be entering the food chain.  We don’t know how this will play out.

Last on my list this week but certainly not least is trade.  With a big crop in the U.S., and burdensome supplies of meat, we need markets.  The meat glut has hammered a 10% decline in beef and pork prices.  Chicken has been hit also.  Trade war concerns multiply the anxiety.

Grain farmers also worry about the expanded trade war.

There is some good news.  Wheat prices are the highest since 2014.  With droughts in other parts of the world, global feed grain inventories are falling.  Pro Farmer reports:  “Record export sales since April, and new crop sales are up 62% from a year ago.  Non-Chinese demand has made up for the absence of China.”

O.K.  I have my fingers crossed.

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, visit

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