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Agriculture in brief: Dairy export council picks Vilsack replacement

Candace Krebs
Special to Ag Journal

USDEC picks CEO after Vilsack tapped for Ag Secretary

With Tom Vilsack tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to be the next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Krysta Harden has been chosen to take his place as CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, the group announced.

Harden served as Deputy Agriculture Secretary from 2013 to 2016 and currently holds the role of chief operating officer at USDEC. Vilsack previously served as Agriculture Secretary for eight years during President Barack Obama’s administration.

Analysis predicts soaring feed costs

The U.S. animal protein sector will face a 12 percent increase in feed costs in 2021, marking the highest year-over-year inflation since 2011, according to CoBank's Knowledge Exchange division.

With corn futures above $4 per bushel and soybean meal futures around $350 per ton, cattle feeders, hog producers and chicken producers will pay higher prices for feed than they have in many years, according to CoBank’s recent report.

The higher feed costs come at a challenging time, as meat and poultry industry margins have been pressured by weak prices in 2020 due to COVID-19. Average producer margins for cattle, hogs and broilers fell into negative territory this year after the pandemic disrupted food service demand and drove widespread meat plant shutdowns.

Soil Revolution offers online videos

In 2020, the annual Soil Revolution Conference in Boulder was canceled, along with many other events. To keep the momentum going and continue to encourage improved soil health, the Soil Revolution Conference has now partnered with local soil health advocates to produce a series of short videos highlighting soil health projects and progressive producers in Boulder County and beyond.

Videos will highlight Boulder County farmers, programs and projects, statewide initiatives, and regional research projects. Find the videos on the conference website or the affiliated YouTube channel.

Meat industry calls for vaccination push

Meat industry groups are urging governors across the U.S. to prioritize COVID-19 vaccination for those who work in the meat and poultry industry, urging they be placed next in line after health-care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff.

The North American Meat Institute, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council jointly requested governors consider plant workers, inspectors and livestock producers as “a very high priority” in the distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines.

Meat processors have reportedly spent hundreds of millions of dollars since the pandemic began on increased wages and out-of-pocket COVID-related health expenses for workers and families, as well as equipment, partitions and extra medical personnel.

Former USDA chief economist joins sugar alliance

The American Sugar Alliance announces that Robert Johansson will become the organization’s Associate Director of Economics and Policy Analysis on Jan. 31.

Johansson has more than 20 years of economics experience, most recently as chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he advised the Secretary of Agriculture, directed the analysis of commodities and managed the designs of various USDA programs.

Johansson will work alongside ASA’s director of economics and policy analysis, Jack Roney, to provide domestic and international sugar market analysis and evaluate the farm and trade policies that affect U.S. sugar producers. Roney, who has worked with the industry for more than 30 years, plans to retire in August 2021, at which time Johansson will assume the director role.

USDA following COVID-19 infections in animals

On Dec. 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories announced a confirmed case of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in a snow leopard at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky. Confirmatory testing is ongoing for two other snow leopards at the zoo.

Samples from the three leopards were taken after they showed signs of respiratory illness. It is suspected they acquired the infection from an asymptomatic staff member, despite precautions taken by the zoo. 

SARS-CoV-2 infections have been reported in a small number of animals worldwide, mostly in animals that had close contact with infected people. While routine testing of animals is not recommended at this time, state and local animal health and public health officials are working with USDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor any new developments.