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John Block: This and That 2017

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

Tip of the day—

“Seven percent of all American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.”  “One in five adults don’t know that hamburgers are beef.”  We have a major education challenge.

Now to look at some priority issues of the day.  Trade has to be near the top of the list.  I think the agriculture industry is very well-represented.  President Trump has nominated Gregg Doud to serve as chief ag negotiator in the Office of U.S. Trade Representative.  Gregg has farm interests and Washington trade experience.  He worked for Senator Pat Roberts and, before that, for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.  He should have no trouble getting confirmed.  Our other power players on trade are U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.  Lighthizer worked on the agriculture trade agreement with the Soviet Union when I was Secretary of Agriculture and Ross just opened the door to sell beef to China.  He said China could reduce its $347 billion trade deficit with the U.S. if they purchase less cattle, soybeans, and industrial goods from other countries – and buy more from the U.S.

Sounds like a good idea to me.

While talking about trade, President Trump’s change in our relationship with Cuba looks like a step backward.  It doesn’t look like the relationship will change very much.  We still have diplomatic relations.  Although trade did not increase with President Obama’s outreach to Cuba, he opened up travel opportunities.  The reality is until the Congress changes the law to allow private credit for Cuba to purchase our food products, they are not going to buy.

Finally, let’s take a look at the new Farm Bill, which must be completed next year.  Getting it done is not as simple as it should be.  Conservative Republicans in Congress want to increase work requirements for “able-bodied” food stamp recipients.  Keep in mind the “Farm Bill” has 2 parts – nutrition programs and farm programs.  If the food stamp work requirement is passed this summer, it will hurt our chances of passing the next Farm Bill.  Although estimates show the work requirement could save $400 billion over 10 years, a lot of moderate Members of Congress would not like the cut.  The whole Farm Bill process could blow up.

I think we should keep nutrition and farm programs together.  “You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.”

Stay tuned…

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