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John Block: A Lot Going On

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

Another week goes by – Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton look to be our Presidential candidates. It’s quite a contrast. Polls indicate that they are in a dead heat, but it’s a long time until November.

Today, I’m going to put a series of issues on the table.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has an Ag representative in countries all over the world to facilitate our exports. Now, at long last, with new relations with Cuba, Secretary Vilsack and the Congress are working to establish an office in Cuba. They could use our rice and a lot of other food products. They import 80% of their food. Speaking of exports, Ag exports are off about $15 billion this year – mostly because the value of the commodities is down. We now have an increase in corn and soybean prices which could turn things around.

A recent high-level meeting with Chinese government officials could open the door for more exports. How many people know that China consumes 50% of the pork eaten in the world? Our sales of pork to China have exploded 250% in the first quarter this year. With this jump in pork sales, does it make any sense that we have not been able to ship beef to China for 14 years? We had our first case of mad cow disease in 2003 and they closed the door on our beef as a result. I can understand a ban for 2, 3, 4 or 5 years, but 14 years is ridiculous.

Chinese beef imports have exploded over this 14-year period, but Australia, Brazil, and New Zealand have benefited. Not us. Now, if we would open our doors to Chinese chicken, maybe they would accommodate our beef. We have banned their chicken because some of their plants didn’t meet our food safety standards.

Finally, in March, our Food Safety Inspection Service announced that several of China’s processing plants have now passed the audit for shipping the product. Maybe there is a chance for a deal here – we get their chicken and they get our beef.

U.S. corn and soybean farmers have almost everything planted and the crops are looking pretty good. Weather problems in Brazil and Argentina have helped to boost our prices. Now, we worry about our own weather during the growing season.

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

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