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Chicken export volumes improving

moodboard/Thinkstock raw chicken

The latest announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service showed that broiler meat exports during November 2016 totaled just more than 250,000 metric tons, up more than 12%, or 27,000 mt, compared to the same month in 2015.

Urner Barry analyst Terence Wells said exported volumes continue to be higher than that the year-before levels.

“Mexico is still U.S. chicken’s top export market both in terms of volume and value; our neighbor to the south imported over 51,000 metric tons in November, which is about 2.5% less than they did the previous year. Further, their total volume for 2016 remains about 4.5% less than it did in 2015,” Wells said.

Industry-wide earnings for the 11-month period were recorded at $2.6 billion, nearly $200 million, or 6.9%, below last year. However, Wells said a positive note is that export movement has improved, and volumes are trending higher for a number of countries, including Cuba, Hong Kong, Guatemala, the Philippines and Vietnam.

While most trade barriers have been lifted and only a few remain, given how much worldwide news coverage avian influenza has received in recent weeks, Wells said there is still plenty of concern for the future of U.S. chicken exports.

“Will there be another outbreak here? Will it be anything like what was experienced in 2014-2015? While no one knows the answer to that question, it doesn’t mean everyone isn’t already paying close attention to the flyways,” he said of avian influenza transmission routes.

Animal food industry's 2016 charitable giving rises significantly

The American Feed Industry Assn. (AFIA) this week released the results of its annual "Community Involvement & Charitable Giving Survey," which revealed the animal food industry's volunteer hours in 2016 to be significantly higher than in 2015.

The informal poll, conducted at the close of each year, tallies community service hours and funds donated by participating companies. Results showed more than 41,000 hours of community service donated by AFIA member companies' employees in 2016 — a 28% increase from 2015. Nearly $2.2 million also were contributed to an expansive list of community causes.

"We could not be more proud of our member companies' initiatives to give back in 2016. Servicing the community to be a better place to live, work and visit — through both funding dollars and volunteer hours — is part of AFIA's sustainability initiative," AFIA president and chief executive officer Joel Newman said.

The feed industry defines the term "sustainability" as: The ability to provide a continuous, safe and nutritious feed supply for poultry, livestock, fish and pets in a manner that optimizes environmental quality and the use of natural resources while positively affecting the social and economic well-being of customers, their communities and the industry.

AFIA members identified charities focused on education, civil service, agriculture, health and collegiate grants/research as key causes to which to contribute both funds and volunteer time, with 96% of respondents engaging in ways to enhance educational programs, up 1% from 2015. Civil service charities also ranked high with respondents, at an 88% contribution level, up a significant 18% from 2015. In total, members donated to 443 various charities in 2016.

"This is the sixth consecutive year (according to Charity Navigator) charitable giving has increased. Funds donated by corporations alone are up nearly 4%," Newman said. "We are pleased to see AFIA members contributing to these worthy causes."

AFIA established a Sustainability Task Force in 2009. It identified four key sustainable focal points designed for communication and collaboration among organizations, companies and associations. "Support the Community" is one of the four focal points AFIA asks its members to participate in as part of its sustainability initiative. The remaining focal points are: optimize the use of energy and natural resources for feed production; enhance production efficiency and productivity, and promote the understanding and appreciation of U.S. food production.

Trump officially withdraws from TPP

Darwel/iStock/Thinkstock Signpost TPP trade

President Donald Trump made good on his campaign promise when, in one of his first actions as President on Monday, he officially withdrew the U.S. from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

Agricultural groups expressed concern, because TPP offered an opportunity to expand agricultural exports as domestic prices remain low.

Groups also continued to stress the importance of delicately addressing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is another promise Trump plans to keep during his first days of office.

The TPP countries represents 40% of the world's gross domestic product, and according to the Peterson Institute, the trade deal would have increased overall U.S. exports $357 billion by 2030. Additionally, TPP was the first regional trade agreement to address the need to coordinate international policy on trade in the products of agricultural biotechnology -- a benefit that the American Soybean Assn. (ASA) said it will push to see in any future agreements with TPP partner nations.

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), cited the bureau's research showing that TPP could have added $4.4 billion annually to the struggling agricultural economy. “With this decision, it is critical that the new Administration begin work immediately to do all it can to develop new markets for U.S. agricultural goods and to protect and advance U.S. agricultural interests in the critical Asia-Pacific region,” Duvall said.

ASA president Ron Moore, a soybean farmer in Roseville, Ill., added that "TPP held great promise" for soybean farmers and "has been a key priority for several years now. We're very disappointed to see the withdrawal today." Soybeans are the leading U.S. agricultural export, and markets in Southeast Asia and Latin America continue to grow in their potential as buyers of U.S. soy.

The biggest beneficiary from TPP, however, was the U.S. livestock industry -- in the form of increased meat and dairy exports -- which also represents the largest domestic market for soybean meal.

The American Feed Industry Assn. condemned Trump’s action, with president and chief executive officer Joel G. Newman saying, "TPP, and agreements like it, are key to setting the terms and rules for future trade relationships, creating higher standards and expectations than previous trade deals. While the U.S. economy generally deals with a trade deficit, agriculture is the one segment where our country enjoys a strong trade surplus."

U.S. agricultural exports, including commercial feed, are increasing despite a global slowdown in overall trade. U.S. feed industry jobs are created and supported by overseas demand for American products. Trade agreements such as TPP allow U.S. producers to exploit growing overseas demand. Much of this growing demand is in the Asia-Pacific region, but mounting competition and new trade agreements within that region that exclude the U.S. continue to block opportunities for the U.S. feed industry to capture this demand.

"TPP was intended to assist the U.S. in setting a global trade agenda, addressing international competition and combating continued market share losses in the region," Newman said. "Without TPP, the U.S. feed industry will lose more than the opportunities provided by tariff reductions. We will lose the opportunity to facilitate new trade relationships by addressing larger sanitary and phytosanitary issues, environmental protections, domestic job creation and regulatory cooperation. As President Trump further assesses U.S. trade relations in the Pacific Rim and any potential trade agreements going forward, we hope components of TPP beneficial to our industry will be preserved.”

Agricultural groups also expressed concerns about the trade actions Trump is taking without any proposed solutions going forward. In a meeting Monday with union leaders after he signed the TPP withdrawal, he said he would do “one-on-one trade” with the nations that were previously involved in TPP negotiations. 

Dairy groups welcomed the approach of replacing TPP with bilateral agreements with countries such as Japan, Vietnam and others in Southeast Asia.

“We’re especially concerned that the Administration is taking these actions without any meaningful alternatives in place that would compensate for the tremendous loss that cattle producers will face without TPP or NAFTA,”  National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. president Tracy Brunner said. “TPP and NAFTA have long been convenient political punching bags, but the reality is that foreign trade has been one of the greatest success stories in the long history of the U.S. beef industry.”

Brunner added that “American cattle producers are already losing out on $400,000 in sales every day because we don’t have TPP, and since NAFTA was implemented, exports of American-produced beef to Mexico have grown by more than 750%.”

Duvall said he hopes to get the Administration’s commitment to ensure that the U.S. does not lose the ground gained – whether in the Asia Pacific, North America, Europe or other parts of the world.

Moving forward, ASA said it expects to see a plan in place as soon as possible to engage the TPP partner nations and capture the value lost with the U.S. withdrawal.

With net farm income down by more than 40% compared with levels just a few years ago, trade deals with Asia-Pacific countries are needed to make up for the $4.4 billion in annual net farm income farmers are losing from not moving forward with the TPP. "Also, we expect a seat at the table to help ensure these agreements, in whatever form they take, are crafted to capture their full value for soybean farmers," Moore said. "Trade is too important for us to support anything less."

Trump has promised to renegotiate NAFTA. An updated statement on the website of the new Trump-led White House says, “If our partners refuse a renegotiation that gives American workers a fair deal, then the President will give notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw from NAFTA.” When asked at the meeting with union leaders when he would renegotiate NAFTA, Trump responded, “At the appropriate time.”

Reports indicate that Trump will begin talks for NAFTA renegotiation when he meets with Canadian and Mexican leaders this week. CNN reported at a White House event Sunday that Trump said he had scheduled meetings with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto. The White House said the meeting with Nieto is set for Jan. 31.

In a letter sent on Monday, 130 farm and food organizations called on Trump to preserve hard-fought agricultural market access in Mexico. “The market integration provided by NAFTA has increased competitiveness in the face of a rapidly changing global economy," the letter said. "Although some important gaps in U.S. export access still remain, increased market access under NAFTA has been a windfall for U.S. farmers, ranchers and food processors. U.S. food and agriculture exports to both countries have more than quadrupled, growing from $8.9 billion in 1993 to $38.6 billion in 2015."

Brunner warned that sparking a trade war with Canada, Mexico and Asia will only lead to higher prices for American-produced beef in those markets and will put American producers at a much steeper competitive disadvantage.

Duvall also said AFBF believes it is important to re-emphasize the provisions of NAFTA with Canada and Mexico that have been beneficial. “U.S. agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico have quadrupled from $8.9 billion in 1993 to over $38 billion today due in large part to NAFTA. Any renegotiation of NAFTA must recognize the gains achieved by American agriculture and assure that U.S. ag trade with Canada and Mexico remains strong. AFBF will work with the administration to remove remaining barriers that hamstring the ability of America’s farmers and ranchers to benefit from trading relationships with our important North American trading partners,” Duvall said.

Changes to nutrition strategies could reduce woody breast

AB Vista Tara York speaking at International Phytase Summit

The release of nutrients through phytase superdosing, combined with nutrients that support the antioxidant status of the animal, are emerging as focuses in the search for tools and strategies to counter the effects of woody breast in poultry.

The exact cause of woody breast — a muscle myopathy affecting the quality, texture and color of chicken breast meat — is currently unknown, although initial research points to genetics and fast growth rates.

Dr. Tara York, AB Vista Technical Manager for the U.S., noted that among the wide variety of studies underway aimed at determining the cause, the most recent unpublished results encourage the view that dietary manipulations can reduce the incidence of woody breast.

“Although a novel concept, recent studies evaluating the impact of trace minerals and antioxidants in combination with feeding higher levels of phytase suggest they may reduce the incidence and severity of woody breast,” she said.

"Woody breast is a complex issue, and there doesn’t appear to be an easy fix, but superdosing influences many areas of nutrition, and our initial research suggests that when you combine superdosing with other factors that support the antioxidants system, such as zinc and vitamin E, there is some success in reducing the severity of the condition," York explained. "Essentially, the condition may be alleviated because we are aiding the bird’s ability to cope with environmental and metabolic stress while also supporting the increased demand for these nutrients for growth rate and breast muscle development.”

York explores these novel approaches in a new video, "Nutritional Strategies to Improve Breast Meat Quality," available on AB Vista’s website. The video features an exclusive interview, along with extracts of York’s presentation from the November 2016 International Phytate Summit, an event that focused on strategies for formulating with minerals and amino acids in the presence of phytate.

York said the summit formed part of the company’s collaborative approach to understanding how nutrition can help the industry overcome current challenges such as woody breast.

“As an industry, the more we expect from the broiler, the more we need to invest to ensure we accomplish our goal in an effective manner,” she concluded.

CWD identified in Michigan, Minnesota

zixian/iStock/Thinkstock captive white-tailed deer

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was confirmed last week in two female deer from a deer farm in Mecosta County, Mich., and at a farm in Meeker County, Minn.

CWD is a fatal neurological disease that affects white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose. It is a prion disease similar to other transmissible spongiform encephalopathies such as scrapie and bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD), this is the second time the disease has been found in a farmed deer facility in Michigan. In 2008, a white-tailed deer from a Kent County deer farm tested positive.

“Chronic wasting disease is a serious disease affecting both farmed and free-ranging deer,” MDARD state veterinarian James Averill said. “We are following the state’s CWD response plan and taking the necessary steps to protect the health and well-being of all of Michigan’s deer populations.”

Samples from the two deer were submitted for testing as a part of MDARD’s mandatory CWD surveillance program. All farmed deer facilities licensed with the Michigan Department Natural Resources (DNR) must participate in this program.

“Any discovery of chronic wasting disease in free-ranging or farmed deer is disappointing,” said Chad Stewart, DNR deer and elk specialist. “It will take significant time and effort — through immediate, targeted surveillance and mandatory checks during the upcoming deer seasons — to understand the current situation. The Michigan DNR remains committed in our efforts to contain this disease and safeguard our valuable wildlife resource.”

In May 2015, CWD was found in a free-ranging deer in Ingham County, Mich. Since then, the DNR has tested nearly 12,000 free-ranging deer for CWD; nine deer have tested positive in Ingham and Clinton counties.

Minnesota case

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BOAH) confirmed CWD on a farm in Meeker County near Dassel, Minn. Positive CWD samples came from a two-year-old female white-tailed deer that died on the farm. In accordance with state law, tissue samples were collected from the carcass and submitted for CWD testing. Farmed deer 12 months of age and older are required to be tested for CWD if they die or are slaughtered.

Samples are tested at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and forwarded to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, which officially confirms CWD. BOAH shares information with the Minnesota DNR and works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as it investigates CWD cases in farmed deer. The DNR responds to and manages CWD in wild deer, while BOAH regulates farmed deer.

The board’s records showed that this positive deer was born on a Crow Wing County farm identified as CWD positive in late 2016 and was moved to the Meeker County farm in December 2014. As of Dec. 30, 2016, there are three confirmed CWD positive farmed deer in Minnesota. Two are associated with the previously reported case in Crow Wing County, while the most recent case in Meeker County was part of a herd of 14 white-tailed deer that remain quarantined on the farm.

“This is why it’s important for the board to maintain accurate animal identification and herd inventories,” BOAH assistant director Dr. Paul Anderson said. “We were able to look back at five years of recorded deer movements out of the infected Crow Wing County herd, locate herds that received deer from it and investigate those farms for a CWD infection. This tracing led to the discovery in Meeker County.”

Update on Crow Wing County case

The original quarantine remains in place on the Crow Wing County herd after two female deer tested positive for CWD. The board is reviewing the past five years of records of animal movement into and out of the herd.

Movement records out of the herd showed that deer were moved to four other Minnesota farms during the five-year traceback period. One of those herds is the Dassel farm in Meeker County. All associated herds remain under movement restrictions.

Movement records into the herd showed that one of the two CWD-infected deer was moved into the herd in 2014 from a deer farm that is no longer in business. The other positive deer was born on the farm.

CWD is caused by an abnormally shaped protein, a prion, that can damage brain and nerve tissue. There is no danger to other animal species. The disease is most likely transmitted when infected deer and elk shed prions in saliva, feces, urine and other fluids or tissues. The disease is always fatal, and there are no known treatments or vaccines. CWD is not known to affect humans, although consuming infected meat is not advised.

Study examines social status in food purchasing habits

grocery store produce

A recent study examining the reasons why consumers pay higher prices for certain foods — be it for fashion, social standing or to advance a healthier lifestyle — revealed that food costs may be too high for some consumers.

Dr. Marco Palma, Dr. David Anderson and Meghan Ness, all with the department of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, conducted field experiments to see why consumers pay more for certain foods with perceived premium labeling. The study results were published recently in the journal Applied Economics.

“While nutritional policies promote the consumption of high-quality, healthy food products, the reality is that the cost of healthy and nutritious food may be too high for some consumers to bear, deeming health promotion policies ineffective,” Palma said. “It is precisely that cost differential in food that has opened the door for food to become a symbol of social status.”

The study found that prestige-seeking individuals may be more likely to be early adopters of foods raised with new production technologies or practices “since they are more responsive to labeling attributes.” The results also found evidence linking food choices and diet quality to income.

The study included 201 participants who entered a baseline sealed-bid auction of lettuce varieties with no information available. A second bidding round was conducted after half of the participants were allowed a blind tasting, while the other half received labeling information such as organic, conventional or hydroponically produced lettuce, Palma said.

Having studied the group demographics on income, employment, marital status, education and race, the team was able to establish latent class segmentation of the group based on prestige-seeking food buying behaviors. The four classes designated as part of the experiment were: Class 1, ambitious shoppers; Class 2, utilitarian buyers; Class 3, affluent elitists, and Class 4, prestige lovers.

Prestige seeking among young consumers seemed to be in line with recent work linking Millennials' self-image and conspicuous consumption with materialism. Social media plays a key role, since it is often used as a way to showcase the consumption of prestigious goods in order to project a positive self-image.

The largest segment, the utilitarian class, paid the least and focused on the functionality of the product. The other groups all displayed prestige-seeking behaviors and were willing to pay more.

The buying behaviors illustrate the efficacy of labeling to enable producers to boost product prices when information is provided to the consumer. However, current literature shows evidential links between diet quality and income, indicating the reduced purchase capacity of lower-income shoppers.

“We found that sellers may be able to boost premium prices paid by prestige-seeking individuals through customer education and marketing,” Palma said. “The increasing gap in food prices associated with diet quality may be reflecting the reality of a lower purchase capacity by low-income consumers.”

January issue of Feedstuffs is now available online

The January issue of Feedstuffs is now available online to subscribers. Among the top stores are:

  • Final GIPSA rule attempts to strike balance
  • States will still take lead on 'pollution' diets
  • USTR hit hard on trade enforcement
  • What is the most effective way to communicate scientific findings?
  • Georgia ag department issues new poultry pricing index
  • Getting more goat meat on dinner plate
  • Monthly Ingredient Market comparison
  • And more. 

To access, the new issue: http://editiondigital.net/publication?i=377271

Talking to children about STEM fields boosts career interest

fabervisum/iStock/Thinkstock hands to ears

A new study found that parents who talk with their high-schoolers about the relevance of science and math can increase competency and career interest in the fields.

The findings, published Jan. 17 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show a 12 percentage point increase on the math and science ACT for students whose parents were provided with information on how to effectively convey the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The same students also are likely to be more interested in pursuing STEM careers, including taking STEM classes in college and having a favorable impression of the fields.

The research by lead author Christopher S. Rozek, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, and colleagues at Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Virginia provides new insights as policy-makers in the U.S. look to increase the number of students going into the STEM fields. A strong pipeline of STEM graduates is seen as critical for economic growth and global competitiveness, with recent international tests ranking the U.S. 35th in math achievement and 27th in science achievement.

“Parents are potentially an untapped resource for helping to improve the STEM motivation and preparation of students,” Rozek said. “We could move the needle by just encouraging parents to have these conversations about the relevance of math and science.”

Rozek and his colleagues focused broadly on what’s known as expectancy-value theory and, more specifically, on the concept that individuals make choices depending on the relevance or usefulness to a current or future goal.

For the study, researchers designed materials that help parents talk to their children about the relevance of STEM fields, pointing to the role of math and science in how cell phones work or how the subjects factor into specific careers. Parents participating in a decades-long study in Wisconsin were split into two groups, with one group receiving the materials and the other serving as the control. Researchers then tracked a variety of outcomes over several years to assess the effects.

The research follows up on initial findings from a study published in 2012 by Rozek and his co-authors showing that 11th- and 12th-grade students whose parents had access to these materials about the relevance of math and science took, on average, nearly one additional semester of STEM coursework in high school.

In the latest study, researchers found that when parents were provided with the STEM relevance information, their children showed improved math and science ACT scores, in addition to taking more STEM courses in high school. The increased high school STEM coursework and higher ACT scores in math and science affected the number of college STEM classes in which students enrolled, the careers they pursued and their overall perception of the value of STEM fields.

The latest findings challenge some widely held assumptions, including that parents already are effectively talking with their children about the importance of math and science and that, by high school, students' views have solidified.

“By the time students are teenagers, many parents don’t think there is much they can do to change their children’s minds or help them be motivated. This research shows that parents can still have a substantial effect,” Rozek said.

The findings provide new perspective on discussions at the federal level, where policy-makers haven’t focused on students’ beliefs regarding STEM — an approach researchers described as cost-effective.

Cuba trade missions highlights growth opportunities

USDA photo by Lydia Barraza Vilsack meets with Cuba ag minister in November 2015
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meets with Agriculture Minister of Cuba Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, U.S. officials, and Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment (MINCEX) officials in Havana, Cuba on Nov. 13, 2015.

While it remains to be seen how the new Trump Administration will handle the future trading relationship with Cuba, those in agriculture continue to see it as a key market with increasing export potential.

Illinois agricultural leaders representing the corn, beef and ethanol industries traveled to Cuba Jan. 7-13, 2017, to meet with government leaders in trade, finance and agriculture. The goal of the delegation, led by Chicago, Ill.-based Traders Group Inc., was to continue building relationships and collaboration activities that began in 2009.

During meetings with Cuban officials, the delegation repeatedly heard that the country wants to trade with the U.S., given the close proximity of the two countries and the high-quality products produced in America.

“We would rather trade with the United States than countries on the other side of the planet. We feel this embargo hurts not just our people but businesses in America,” one Cuban trade director said.

“We are not the evil the propaganda says about us. It is time to finish with the embargo,” another Cuban agency director said.

Under the present embargo, Cuba imports mainly medicine and chicken from the U.S. and must pay in cash for the products. U.S. companies are not permitted to trade directly with Cuba due to the Helms-Burton Act, so the country must buy elsewhere for better offers on important products like corn and rice. Beef is almost non-existent on Cuban menus. Cuba can now export organic coffee, Marau charcoal for grilling and other organic ingredients to the U.S.

“To the doubters that say this is a very small market, the possible growth is exponential considering that Cuba is key to a minimum of 20 Latin American markets’ willingness to trade with the U.S.,” said Caridad G. Manns, president and international affairs market strategist for Traders Group.

After relaxed relations between the two countries were established in 2014, Cuba is gearing up for a major influx of visitors from the U.S., with construction going on throughout the country to increase the number of hotels and resorts.

With more visitors comes an increase in demand for quality food. In the last half of 2016 alone, 500,000 Americans visited Cuba. According to figures from the Cuban Bureau of Tourism and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this number is expected to grow to 10 million yearly visitors from around the world. This is a tourism market located right in America's own back yard.

“American and world tourists will want high-quality beef on the menus. The Cubans don’t produce enough to meet the need. That’s where we can come in — by providing them high-quality Illinois beef,” U.S. Meat Export Federation board member Lou Lamoreux said.

Joni Bucher, vice president of the Illinois Beef Assn., spoke about collaborating with Cuba’s beef sector and exploring the opportunity to market Illinois beef ranchers’ products to the new boutique restaurants in Cuba.

In order to trade with Cuba, companies must register with the government and be approved. Both the Marquis Energy and Illinois beef and grain merchants said they planned to pursue that process upon returning to the U.S.

“They are behind in a lot of ways because of the restrictions we’ve put on them. Their growth appears to be ready to explode, so there’s a lot of potential,” said Tom Marquis, co-founder and vice president of Marquis Energy, the largest dry-mill ethanol facility in the U.S. “We’re well situated to supply that market because we load barges of ... corn distillers grain and solubles to oceangoing vessels right now in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s an easy, logistical step to go from the Gulf of Mexico to Cuba, whether it be with distillers grains or ethanol.”

Building friendships is key to building business when the embargo ends, according to Don Duvall, treasurer of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board.

“As we learned in some of the meetings, price is the issue. If they can get it cheaper somewhere else, they will do it. That is our 'in.' You can get corn from Illinois or from anywhere in the Midwest. Once you’re on the Illinois River, it’s pretty well the same price, so something to distinguish the Illinois producers is a huge value,” both Raben and Duvall said. “The Cuban leadership specifically remembers us, at Illinois Corn, when we came with Traders Group in 2015. It’s the relationships and the small gestures of friendship that make the crucial difference.”

When speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in early January, Marri Carrow, Western Hemisphere regional director for the U.S. Grains Council, said grain markets across Central America, and in Cuba specifically, are poised for growth after a couple of rough economic years across the region.

“If we were to capture 100% of the Cuban market share for corn, they would be our 12th-largest export market for corn globally,” Carrow said. “It’s not a small market; it’s not exactly big, either, but it’s sizable and right in our back yard.”

Carrow said a return to the U.S.'s pre-embargo market share in Cuba will depend on improved trade relations and removing the current credit restrictions, and “until we see those changes, we really have our hands tied when it comes to agricultural trade there.”

Ag urges support of Cuba trade

Ahead of Inauguration Day, more than 100 state and national agriculture-related organizations and agribusinesses had sent a letter to President Donald Trump and his team asking his Administration to prioritize the removal of private financing and trade barriers for agricultural commodities and equipment. While the needed fixes fall under the jurisdiction of Congress, the letter asks the Administration to consider "progress made in normalizing relations with Cuba."

Further, the letter said, “As a broad cross-section of rural America, we urge you not to take steps to reverse progress made in normalizing relations with Cuba and also solicit your support for the agricultural business sector to expand trade with Cuba to help American farmers and our associated industries.”

The groups pointed to how the U.S. is no longer Cuba's go-to for food, noting that "the U.S. has fallen from its position as the number-one supplier of agricultural products from 2003 to 2012 to now the number-five supplier after the European Union, Brazil, Argentina and Vietnam. The U.S. needs to be number one again — especially given that many of Cuba's imports, including rice, poultry, dairy, soy, wheat and corn, make up more than 70% of what they import, and they're all grown right here in the U.S. by hardworking American farmers."

Dr. Steven Zahniser, an economist at USDA’s Economic Research Service, said growth in U.S. agricultural trade with Cuba remains limited, with credit restrictions putting our products at a disadvantage. Meanwhile, other countries have stepped in to fill the gap, leaving the U.S. with a smaller market share.

“Normalized trade with Cuba could bring an increase of $1 billion per year in agriculture exports, compared with the estimated $195 million in sales of agriculture products from the U.S. to Cuba in 2016,” Zahniser said. He and other economists look to U.S. trade with the Dominican Republic as a model for what to anticipate with Cuba. Although the Dominican is part of a larger free trade agreement, Zahniser called this a solid comparison in both market size and purchasing power.

Science holds answer to America's obesity issue

scale

The new year inherently brings about resolutions for making ourselves better, and for many people those likely include weight loss. It's a daily battle -– especially in an era of plentiful food and sedentary lifestyles. Our resolve to fight the battle is more important than ever.

A recent editorial in The Lancet's (Obesity and Diabetes in 2017: A New Year) draws attention to that reality. The column cites data from England. Between 1991-1993 and 2011-2013, the proportion of overweight or obese individuals has increased from 66.7 to 76.8% for men, and from 54.8% to 63.4% for women.

But the problem stretches even beyond the U.S. or Europe. Perhaps no one explains the global dilemma better than Joe Quinlan (chief market strategist, U.S. Trust). In a recent Bloomberg Surveillance interview, Quinlan explained that,

“Obesity is emblematic of convergence of lifestyles and higher per capita incomes. Whether it's Brazil, whether it's China, or other parts of emerging markets, it's increased presence of processed foods and sedentary lifestyles. Instead of working in a factory on Saturday, you've got people in a mall... When you live in a rural area, you're typically working, gathering wood, you're riding a bike, you're working in a field, you're very active. When you're in the city, you're typically going to an office, riding in a cab and so forth. It's a huge change and it's really playing out across Asia – and Africa as well.”

Meanwhile, the Word Health Organization cites that the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. What’s more, WHO states the prevalence of diabetes has been rising more rapidly in middle- and low-income countries.

Clearly, solving our weight and diabetes issues is far more complicated than simply reducing how much we eat. To that end, The Lancet Commission on Obesity is due out with a new report in 2018 examining the roles of nutrition, physical activity, food systems, etc.; and that all makes sense.

As with any epidemic, however, there’s always the tendency to overreach when trying to find a solution. Not surprisingly, the Commission on Obesity is looking at agriculture's role (that’s a tired argument). But wait, it gets worse yet. The commission even includes climate change as a potential causation factor. Apparently, we’re supposed to believe that GHG emissions affects (consciously or subconsciously) our eating habits. (That’s probably an entire article by itself.)

And then of course, there’s the ever-prevalent finger-pointing at meat. I recently ran across an article from the Food and Farm Discussion Lab outlining key drivers of the worldwide obesity epidemic. There’s lots of talk about increasing physical inactivity. But the primary driver? You guessed it -- meat: "An increase in meat consumption and animal fats could lead people to becoming overweight."

Nobody dispels that logic better than Gary Taubes in his new book, The Case Against Sugar. Taubes explains that:

“At its simplest, this focus on dietary fat -– specifically from butter, eggs, dairy, and fatty meats –- emerged from a concept that is now knows as a nutrition transition: As populations become more affluent and more urban, more “Westernized” in their eating habits and lifestyle, they experience an increased prevalence of these chronic diseases. Almost invariably, the dietary changes include more fat consumed (and more meat) and fewer carbohydrates. This isn’t always the case, however, which should have been considered a critical factor in the nutritional debates than ensued. The Inuit, for instance, pastoral populations like the Masai in Kenya, or South Pacific Islanders like those on the New Zealand protectorate of Tokelau, consumed less fat, (and in some cases less meat) over the course of their relevant nutrition transitions, and yet they, too experienced more obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (and cancer as well.) These populations are the counter-examples that suggest that this dietary-fat hypothesis is wrong.”

As explained in one of my columns several years ago, the obesity rate during the past 30 years more than doubled in the U.S. Meanwhile, overall meat consumption is nearly flat compared during that time -– not to mention red meat consumption has declined as part of that overall trend. But somehow, someway, we're still getting fatter. There’s simply no foundation to blaming obesity on meat.

Bringing this all back around, there’s encouraging signs the scientific community is beginning to objectively tackle the complexities -– including food habits and changing lifestyles over time -- associated with diabetes and obesity from a global perspective. And with that, The Lancet is right: “Individuals, clincians and governments should use this new year to reflect on the reality of health in 2017…obesity and diabetes should not become the new normal.” But the keyword there is “reality.” So, while we are seemingly making progress –- work remains. Looking for false, or politically expedient, solutions won’t get us to the right endgame.