Ag Groups Say Strong Chance U.S. Joins New TPP
When Biden Shifts Focus to Trade
President Biden focuses on COVID-19 recovery and climate initiatives, some agricultural groups think trade will be a key piece of those conversations. “I think a lot of what they're trying to do requires international cooperation,” says Maria Zieba, director of international affairs for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). “In order for things to be successful, whether it's on climate or other issues, you really do need that international cooperation. And that's where with trade, we have a very good track record of working with partners, at least in the trade of goods and services.” Mending relationships with allies is a move one Ohio grower wants to see. “I'm looking for the Biden Administration to have a comprehensive policy when it comes to trade,” says Christopher Gibbs, who raises corn, soybeans and hay in west-central Ohio. 

Source: Michael Best Strategies
Front-line Food Plant Workers Up Next for COVID-19 Vaccine

Gov. Tim Walz and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm announced on Thursday that the next wave of people set to receive the vaccine will be those with certain high-risk health conditions, plus targeted essential workers — specifically, the 45,000 workers at the state’s food processing plants. Vaccinations of those groups are expected to begin in April. Read More

WI Covid-19 Liability Relief Signed into Law

Governor Evers signed into law yesterday an unemployment insurance bill that included the Covid liability relief that we and others in the business community had asked for. See Section 8.
Legislation to enact similar Covid liability relief, SF 745, has been introduced in the MN Legislature by the chair of the Sen. Judiciary Committee, Sen. Warren Limmer. Rep. Peggy Scott will author the bill in the House. Few substantive policy reforms are expected to become law in 2021. Senate Republican leadership is committed to passing the bill this session, but the DFL House leadership is unlikely to give the bill a public hearing. There is always an outside chance this language is negotiated into an omnibus package in May or June.
WI Legislature Approves Unemployment System Upgrades, Covid Legal Immunity for Businesses
The state Legislature has approved a plan to once again waive Wisconsin’s one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, as well as move forward with updating the archaic technology behind Wisconsin's unemployment system, and to give businesses and schools legal immunity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read More

Source: WisPolitics
U.S. Senate Can't Vote on $15 Minimum Wage, Parliamentarian Rules

The Senate parliamentarian ruled that a plan to gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 does not fit the complicated rules that govern budget bills in the Senate. House Democrats included the measure in a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that is expected to be the first major legislative act for President Biden. Read More

U.S. Ag Exports Forecasted to Reach a Record $157 Billion

The USDA is projecting U.S. ag exports to hit a record $157 billion for fiscal year 2021. USDA Chief Economist Seth Meyer says China is increasing its already strong demand for U.S. products. “That growth in exports is supported by strong rebound in Chinese demand and as we talked about that coming late in the when our view of the crop was getting smaller, the Chinese kept buying, really offering price support into the market,” he says. The export forecast for China is a record $31.5 billion. Meyer says China is also expected to exceed its corn tariff rate quota of 283 million bushels for the second year. “What we have on the from the United States sold to China that is not yet shipped but needs to be shipped by August 31 is 11.2 million metric tons, also well above the TRQ,” he says. He says the TRQ is not a rigid barrier and U.S. exports will continue to be supported by strong Chinese demand in the near term. Meyer made these comments during the virtual USDA Ag Outlook Forum. Read More

Source: Michael Best Strategies

Agricultural Debt Continues to Increase for Today's Farmer

As many farmers and ranchers have seen on their own balance sheet, agricultural debt has been steadily increasing since 1991. This is not a surprise to most as the cost of farming has also risen in recent years. According to new data from Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, farmers have been increasing their debt levels since the ’90s. With the continued tighter margins and more variability in the farm economy, increasing debt levels need to be monitored closely. Read More

Source: Michael Best Strategies

MWFPA Scholarships: Deadline to Apply Approaching

MWFPA Scholarship

In 2020, the Midwest Food Products Association Scholarship awarded 20 $1,000 scholarships to deserving children of parents or guardians who are employees of MWFPA member companies and are a high school senior or post-secondary student accepted into, or attending any post-secondary school, in the United States. A post-secondary school means an institution of higher education including a vocational and technical college, two-and four-year colleges and private trade schools. Winning applicants may attend these schools with any major of study. Deadline to apply March 15, 2021

MWFPA Friday/Weckel Scholarship

Both scholarships offer up to three $1,500 scholarships (total of six) to deserving undergraduate students who are majoring in agriculture or food science within the University of Wisconsin system (currently Madison, Platteville and River Falls).

Each student needs to complete only one application and required financial forms to apply for both the Carleton A. Friday and Kenneth G. Weckel scholarships. Please make sure you have printed a copy of the current year’s application/deadline or it will not be accepted (deadline for application submission and all required information is listed on the application forms). Deadline to apply April 20, 2021.

New Technologies & Concepts Save Energy in Food and Beverage Plants
Recent developments from energy providers and equipment suppliers are providing new ways to reduce energy usage and costs. We look at developments on the artificial intelligence (AI) front from Constellation (an Exelon company) and integrating process with heating/cooling systems from GEA, supplier of manufacturing equipment to the food and beverage industry. Read More

Source: CLFP
Coronavirus and Food Safety: What the Studies Conclude
When the Covid-19 pandemic began, not much was known about SARS-CoV-2 and its survival in food, on materials and on surfaces. Since then several food safety agencies have assessed the risk of potentially acquiring the coronavirus from contaminated food or food packaging. The consensus is that there is no evidence it is a safety risk. Read More

Source: CLFP
Red Gold's Steve Smith Passes
Our friends at RED GOLD announced that Steve Smith, Senior Director of Agriculture, passed away on February 17th.
He was a quiet leader for the ag industry, he worked to stand up the American Fruit and Vegetable Processors and Growers Coalition. He was a courageous leader who took on the big issues, spearheading the effort to stop the dicamba harm to agriculture through his founding of SAVE OUR CROPS. He succeeded in bringing national attention to this problem.
He led the effort to provide more opportunities for growers to include vegetables on their land with being penalized with a loss of other benefits, through Farm Flex legislation, first as a pilot then as permanent law in the Farm Bills.

He is also well known in agriculture circles having served as an advisor on a number of occasions to the USDA and, as you can in the picture above, to top Agriculture leaders in Congress.
Steve Smith
Senior Director of Agriculture
Red Gold
Biden's Trade Chief Tasked with Reset after Trump Tariff Chaos
Weeks before the White House said it would keep tariffs in place on more than $350 billion in Chinese goods, Katherine Tai previewed the bad news to a group of U.S. business leaders. Tai, who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. Trade Representative, told executives at a private meeting hosted by the Business Roundtable last month that lobbying for the duties to be removed wouldn’t work, according to people familiar with her remarks. Instead, companies keen to keep the so-called phase one trade deal -- struck by the Trump administration and Beijing -- should be prepared to live with the tariffs too, Tai said. Her frank assessment offers a glimpse of the methodical approach she’ll take as America’s top trade official, as well as the hard line she’s expected to pursue in U.S.-China negotiations. Biden is banking on Tai’s low profile -- she’s not as well-known as some of his other economic advisers – and her pragmatic style to distance him from the chaos that defined the Trump administration’s trade agenda. Read More

Source: Michael Best Strategies
USDA Issues Preview of H-2A Wage Rates
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a preview Feb. 11 of what the 2021 H-2A wage rates will look like. USDA released its Farm Labor Survey (FLS), which the Department of Labor (DOL) will use to generate the 2021 Adverse Effect Wage Rates (AEWRs). Read More

Conagra CEO: Millenials to Drive Brand Success
Conagra Brands expects brand loyalty to increase with its growing younger consumer base, because it is likely that this group will continue to work at home at least partially post-pandemic and that more millennials will become parents in the coming years, said CEO Sean Connolly. These consumers are driving growth for Conagra's frozen meal brands, including Bird's Eye, Healthy Choice and the plant-based Gardein brand.

Source: CBA
India Trade Minister Says Will Work with USTR on "Fresh" Trade Package
India’s federal Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said he will engage with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to work on a new trade deal. “I will also engage with the new USTR to try and put together a fresh package. I think the old one is now off the table,” Goyal said at a U.S.-India Business Council event on Wednesday.  Read More

Source: Michael Best Strategies
General Mills Unveils Growth Strategy
General Mills has released Accelerate, a long-term growth strategy of 2% to 3% that targets five sectors: cereals, snack bars, pet food, ice cream and Mexican foods. Accelerate also plans to increase investments in eight core markets and best-selling brands such as Annie's, Yoplait, Yoki and Pillsbury. Read More

Source: CBA
Bipartisan FEEDD Act Reintroduced
Representatives Angie Craig (D-MN) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and John Hoeven (R-ND) reintroduced the bipartisan ‘Feed Emergency Enhancement During Disasters with Cover Crops Act’ (FEEDD Act). The FEEDD Act will provide farmers and ranchers emergency flexibility to help alleviate livestock feed shortages during planting seasons with high levels of prevent plant due to extreme moisture or drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided an administrative fix to the haying and grazing dates in 2019 and 2020 after advocacy from Representative Craig.”  Read More

Source: Fluence Media
IL House Speaker Madigan Resigns from Illinois House After Being Ousted as Speaker
From Chicago Tribune: A half-century after he was first sworn into the Illinois House from Chicago’s Southwest Side, Michael Madigan announced his resignation Thursday, a little more than a month after he was deposed by fellow Democrats as the nation’s longest-serving statehouse speaker. In a statement, the embattled 78-year-old lawmaker, ensnarled in a federal corruption investigation, lashed out at his critics as he sought to defend his actions during his 36-year reign as House speaker. “It’s no secret that I have been the target of vicious attacks by people who sought to diminish my many achievements lifting up the working people of Illinois. The fact is, my motivation for holding elected office has never wavered. I have been resolute in my dedication to public service and integrity, always acting in the interest of the people of Illinois,” he said. Read More

Source: IMA

WI Governor Evers Signs Tax Protections for PPP Loans
Gov. Tony Evers has signed into law a bill that cuts taxes by nearly half a billion dollars for Wisconsin businesses that accepted loans to help them through the coronavirus pandemic. Evers signed the bill last Thursday, noting in a statement released shortly afterwards that the measure will also provide $30 million in tax relief for low income families.

“This past year has been challenging and unrelenting for so many, but since the beginning of this pandemic, we’ve been committed to providing economic relief to the folks who’ve been affected by the pandemic,” Gov. Evers said. The new law makes loans administered through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program tax deductible under Wisconsin’s tax code. Read More
No Transmission of Covid-19 Through Food or Packaging, USDA and FDA Confirm

After more than a year since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak was declared a global health emergency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to underscore that there is no credible evidence of food or food packaging associated with or as a likely source of viral transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing COVID-19. Our confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply remains steadfast. Consumers should be reassured that we continue to believe, based on our understanding of currently available reliable scientific information, and supported by overwhelming international scientific consensus, that the foods they eat and food packaging they touch are highly unlikely to spread SARS-CoV-2.  Read More

Source: Michael Best Strategies
Baldwin Take Reins on Ag Appropriations
The Wisconsin Democrat will chair the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Agriculture Department and FDA’s annual budgets, while North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven will again be the top Republican on the panel. In a statement, Baldwin touted her experience representing a top dairy state and pledged to focus on supporting producers and rural development for “communities that too often feel they are being left behind by Washington.” More moves: Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who was previously the Ag-FDA panel’s top Democrat, will instead take the gavel of the Interior-EPA subcommittee (which also controls funding for the Forest Service). Pro Budget’s Jennifer Scholtes has the full rundown of the new top Senate appropriators.   Read More

Source: Michael Best Strategies
Food Packaging Innovation to Prevent Food Waste
4-10% of food purchased by foodservice operations in the U.S. is thrown out before reaching plates, according to the EPA.

MN Democrats Renew Push for Universal 12-week Paid Family Leave Protections
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, along with business groups around the state, has also spoken out against the bill. "If the state mandates expansive new benefits without regard for their relevance to the employer and its workforce, its industry or market, costs will go up," business groups said in a letter to the House committee. "The results are reduced staff and job opportunities, hours or both — hurting workers and their families." Read More

Source: MN Chamber
Conagra Releases Corporate Responsibility Goals
Conagra has released its 2020 Citizenship Report, detailing its goals regarding environmental, social and governance initiatives. Targets include decreasing Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 25% by 2030 and doubling the company's number of people of color in management positions. Read More

Source: CBA
AFFI Takes Steps to Combat China's Frozen Food Covid Claims
AFFI stepped into action by orchestrating a letter, supported and signed by a broad coalition of food stakeholders, that was sent to FDA, HHS (leads WHO engagement), USDA, and USTR. AFFI’s outreach resulted in USDA and FDA issuing a joint statement underscoring that there is no credible evidence of food or food packaging associated with or as a likely source of viral transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing COVID-19. AFFI also communicated with members of the WHO-led international mission to share its concerns and encouraged the U.S. Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response at FDA Frank Yiannas to respond.

Source: AFFI
Senate Confirms Vilsack for Second Stint as USDA Secretary
The Senate voted 92-7 Tuesday to confirm Tom Vilsack as Agriculture secretary, sending the former Iowa governor back to a department he ran for eight years under President Barack Obama.

"His deep knowledge of agriculture and rural America is needed now more than ever," Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said ahead of the vote. "The COVID-19 crisis is continuing to disrupt our food supply chain... We have more than 50 million Americans today who are in a hunger crisis." Read More

Source: WisPolitics
Food & Agriculture Climate Alliance Expands, Sets Policy
The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA) announced expanding membership and new policy working groups focused on developing a set of more specific policy proposals that drill down on the 40-plus recommendations released by FACA in November 2020. Read More

Source: CLFP
Mark Your Calendar
March 11 - New Emerging Risks, Increased Scrutiny on Compliance, Historic Claims - Where Do We Go From Here? Gain a better understanding of how you can lower your costs of risks, financially and operationally for your business, given the current state of the insurance market.

March 9-12 - The Partnership for Food Safety Education has scheduled its Consumer Food Safety Education (CFSE) Virtual Conference for March 9-12, 2021. It is the only conference in the U.S. dedicated to consumer food safety education. This year’s conference will explore many timely topics, including those that have impacted consumers since the COVID-19 pandemic began. More

June 3 - Annual Spring Summit & Scramble
Trappers Turn, Wisconsin Dells. Back by popular demand, the highly anticipated annual in-person golf outing! Watch for details in coming weeks.


March 25 - Cyber Liability: How to Transfer Risk
Presented by M3 Insurance (REGISTRATION OPEN SOON)

April 8 - HACCP/Preventive Controls
Presented by Hydrite Chemical (REGISTRATION CLOSED AT THIS TIME)

April 22 - Field Service Automation

May 6 - Elements of a Great Leader
Presented by Russell Associations (REGISTRATION CLOSED AT THIS TIME)