Trade

July 18, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Some listeners might get tired of hearing about trade disputes.  Why are they important?  Well, for the ag industry it makes the difference between profit and loss because we export 20-30% of our farm production.  Chinese tariffs have been very costly.  Our government will be providing assistance to farmers hurt by the trade war.  Bill Northey, USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production says qualified farmers could start getting some money from the $16 billion Market Facilitation Program next month.  Farmers received government support last year and will get some this year.  That will be welcome, but we really want an end to the trade conflict with China. 

Now we have some trade war hawk voices crying out that “a China deal could cost Trump the election next year.”  I don’t agree.  A deal should help the President.  President Trump and President Xi are expected to meet in September.  It would be a victory if something could be worked out by then.

China isn’t the only trade question.  We have negotiated a new agreement with Canada and Mexico.  USMCA needs to be passed by our Congress.  There is strong bipartisan support for the bill, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t let the House vote on it.  She is demanding significant changes.  To me it is all politics. 

Here is what the National Corn Growers Association had to tell us.  “Over the past 25 years American agriculture exports have tripled to Canada and quintupled to Mexico.  Times are tough across the farm belt and reaffirming our relationship with Mexico and Canada will provide a more certain future for American farmers.  It’s time for Congress to pass USMCA!”  Well, I second that motion.

Next week the European Commission’s new Director General for Trade will come to Washington to talk trade.  The EU is a problem.  At this point they have refused to include agriculture in the trade talks.  Let’s not forget about Japan.  We are working with them now to cut a trade deal.  The word is that we could have one by some time in September.  Stay cool.

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Down on the Farm

July 10, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

 And now for today’s commentary –

Here I am on the farm in Illinois.  I will update you on what I see, but first I still have our Independence Day Celebration on my mind.  All the national attention and the President’s speech can make us proud.  On my radio program in 1995 – 24 years ago – here is what I had to say then.

“Listen to the speeches of our leaders.  Notice the respect for our military.  Military at the top.  Hollywood at the bottom.  The call is back to basics – education, personal responsibility, family values, the church.  Concern for our own people and nation and reduced willingness to pour billions of dollars into foreign countries.  We see a renewed emergence of the old “can do” independence.  It is not always government’s responsibility.  Get the government out of the way. We can do it.”  Those were my words 24 years ago.  I’m hoping for the same national spirit today.

Now down on the farm our early corn planted by May 10th really looks good.  But then the rain came.  The rest of our corn and soybean planting was not in the ground until the first week of June.  That late planting corn was not knee high by the 4th of July.  This crop is in God’s hands now.  We can only hope for the best.

I’m so happy that our hogs are healthy.  African Swine Fever has devastated China’s hog industry.  With a pause in our trade war with China they say they will buy more pork.  We shall see.  While in Knoxville, I went to the park where they have a 1 room country school house.  I went to a 1 room school like that for 8 years.  We didn’t have any running water – just a well and a hand pump outside.  We had 9 or 10 students – 8th graders with a coal furnace in the room to keep us warm in the winter.  In the back we had 2 out houses – one for the girls and one for the boys.  We had a basketball hoop and played basketball outside weather permitting.  We played games against other grade schools from little towns.  My sisters played on the team because we didn’t have enough boys.  A lot of memories keep coming back.  Some of us would ride our ponies to school.  We had a little barn to tie them up while in class.  Those little country schools have been gone for years.  All the kids now come into town.  It’s good to be back home.

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

2019 Independence Day

July 3, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

We have just celebrated another Independence Day – parades, fireworks, flags waving.  My flag is up and waving all the time, but on the 4th of July it is really showing off.  Our leaders were giving patriotic speeches across the nation.  President Trump spoke from the Lincoln Memorial here in D.C.  Some critics said he would be too political.  But it seems to me appropriate for our President to honor our military and the United States of America on Independence Day.  Afterall let’s not forget our nation is the leader of the free world.  Let’s remember what got us to where we are today – Liberty and Justice for All.  Freedom from oppressive government regulations, private property rights.

Our way of life has been threatened many times, but we have always been up to the challenge.  Our nation is more than 200 years old, but that is young compared to many other countries.

With instantaneous 24-hour news, we watch the death and destruction in many countries around the world.  We don’t want that.  We need to appreciate what we have, and never forget that hard work and individual responsibility is the foundation for our success.  We keep hearing a loud call to turn to socialism.  Why would we want to go down that road?  Look at Venezuela and Cuba and others.  The only successful communist countries are those that are moving away from heavy socialistic policies – such as Vietnam and China.  We need to celebrate and preserve our old frontier spirit ringing from the rafters.

What we have today wasn’t handed to us on a silver platter.  It took hard work and determination and sacrifice to develop our country.  We fought the British for our independence.  We fought the Civil War to save the union.  Then we fought World War I and II.  The fact that millions of people from other countries will do anything to get into the United Sates – legally or illegally.  What does that tell you?  Maybe it is telling us that we have something worth protecting and preserving.  Don’t mess it up.

Next week I will be on the farm in Illinois.  I’ll call in from there and let you know how the corn and beans and baby pigs are.

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Issues of the Day

June 27, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Hot issues of the day – Are we going to war with Iran?  They did shoot down one of our drones worth more than $130 million.  News reports tell us that in response, President Trump agreed to a retaliatory strike against Iran.  But then at the last minute he called it off.  War hawks criticized him for backing down.  I support the President’s decision.  He is giving Iran one last chance to behave like a nation should.  Now if Iran can’t clean up their act, they will pay a big price.

Let’s take a look at the Ag Industry.  Farm income has been cut in half in the last 4 years with income down, bad weather, and a trade war, the challenges continue to mount.

We are experiencing the highest level of farmer difficulties in 7 years.  The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City reports producers hold $427 billion in debt – the most since the 1980 farm crisis.  And when farmers suffer, so do the companies that sell to them.  How many new tractors and combines will we buy?  Not very many is my guess.

There is a silver lining to these storm clouds. – We just have to survive to take advantage.  First, with President Trump and President Xi meeting this weekend, we can hope they can begin ending the trade war.  China’s Vice Minister of Commerce says, “We should meet each other half way.  Both sides will need to compromise.”  I said last week that both presidents can be stubborn, but there is a good reason and pressure to negotiate a deal.  President Trump will be running for reelection.  He needs a victory and there are some reasonable concessions President Trump could make for President Xi.

There is one other development that can help the Ag industry – higher prices.  With the floods and terrible spring weather our crops will be short.  We are already seeing higher prices for some products.  It’s too soon to know how much our yield is cut.  I know you would remind me if we don’t have very much crop to sell, a higher price won’t help.  However, over time if your surplus is cut in the next year or two, we will benefit.  In the meantime, government support programs, including crop insurance, will help to support farmers and ranchers.  We have lived through tough times before and we can do it again.

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Uncertainty in Agriculture

June 19, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. 

They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and a prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Agri-Pulse Daybreak reported “when asked if he could say when the U.S. and China would reach an agreement to end this trade war, the U.S. Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Gregg Doud said ‘No is the answer.’” No one knows.  President Trump and Chinese President Xi will be meeting at the end of the month with other world leaders.  Will U.S. and China open the door for ending the trade war?  Knowing how stubborn both leaders can be, I am not very optimistic.

Farmers and ranchers today are focusing on the damage the torrential rains and flooding did to our farm production this year.  We have better prices now with a short crop, but there is so much uncertainty.  Government support money is coming, but no one knows how much or when.  We have lived through these kinds of challenges before, but with farm income at one-half what it was 4-years ago, these are difficult times.  He didn’t say how to do it, but President Trump ordered his administration to “streamline regulations and promote the safety of genetically engineered crops.” The GE crops that are growing today can withstand herbicide sprays to kill weeds and kill destructive bugs.  Our fields today are mostly weed free.  Before we had GE crops, weeds and root worms were everywhere.  We had to cultivate corn and beans.  We hired high school kids to walk the fields killing weeds.  The cost of labor and energy is hard to imagine. 

Developing and getting government approval for those GE crops took an average of 13-years and $135 million.  We do need to speed up the process.  We can’t feed the world without new technology.

We are now ready to develop crops using gene editing technology.  Gene editing does not bring in genes from other kinds of plants.  Gene editing should not require as much regulation.

USDA regulates the crops, but FDA regulates GE animals.  The positive thing is the administration wants to give a green light to streamline. 

The farming business today is not what it was 30 years ago, and in the next 30 years, we will see more dramatic change. 

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

John Block Reports from Washington

Did You Know

June 13, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Finally – my corn and soybeans are in the ground.  However, as of last Sunday there were 15.8 million U.S. corn acres still unplanted.  The wet spring and ticking time clock have pushed farmers to plant fields before they are dry.  This has been a very tough planting season. 

U.S. corn production will drop like a rock.  We just don’t know how much.  Our soybean crop will also suffer.  President Trump threatened to impose new tariffs on Mexico unless they help to cut off the streams of immigrants from Central America.  Well that got their attention.  Mexico will be sending troops to help close the door.

Also, the word is that as early as next week, Mexico will vote to approve USMCA- our new NAFTA.  Canada and U.S. will still need to vote.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a new 52-page study of school meals in response to the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act passed in 2010.  Our students are eating more fruits and vegetables.  We can only hope that all the ads and national news about what to eat and what not to eat will give us healthier citizens.  Perhaps we will see a reduction in obesity.  A positive note is that the cost of eating more fruits and vegetables isn’t any more today than it was in 2013.  So, get your exercise.  Eat more protein and less sugar and carbs.

Did you know that last year was the wettest on record? Did you know that GMO’s are considered safe to eat by a majority of scientists,  including the National Academy of Science, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association?  But only 1/3 of consumers accept that view.

Did you know that camels’ milk could be the next super food?  Rich in iron, vitamins B and C, low in fat and can fight diseases like diabetes.

When I was Ag Secretary and in Saudi Arabia standing beside a camel, the farmer handed me a cup of that camel’s milk.  I drank some of it.  I have been healthier ever since.

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Tariffs

June 6, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

We all have priorities.  I was delighted when USMCA -- our new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada -- was completed and agreed to.  The next step is to get all three countries to vote acceptance.  We lifted our steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico and Canada, which opened the door for approval.

But last week President Trump announced that he would impose new tariffs on Mexico if they don’t “immediately” stop the flow of undocumented immigrants and drugs across our border.

U.S. and Mexican officials are meeting now as I record this program.  Keep in mind most of the immigrants come from Central America and they cross the border into Mexico and head north through Mexico to our border.  Mexico for many years was very tough in keeping their border closed.  Not now.  The onslaught is too much, and they just walk across.  We can only hope that Mexico can come up with a plan to help stop the flow and avoid another tariff war.  Also, I don’t think we can get USMCA passed with U.S. and Mexico in a trade fight.

Mexico and China are our two most important trading partners.  And at this point the trade dispute with China seems to be going nowhere.

On the plus side, Congress passed the huge $19.1 billion disaster aid bill.  This will provide much needed support to the thousands that have seen wildfires, floods, and hurricanes devastate farms, towns and businesses.  The bill provides $3.3 billion for the Agriculture Department.  Support will be there for farmers who have lost their crops and are unable to plant this year because of floods.  The Forest Service will also get funding to recover from wildfires.  This has been the toughest planting season that I can remember. 

On my farm in Illinois we have 80% of our corn planted.  We just got started planting soy beans this week.  The delay will be costly for farmers.

Happy note – Thank you EPA.  They announced approval of year-round E 15 sales.  We could see 15% ethanol in our fuel and that would expand the corn market.  The EPA ruling will likely be delayed by court challenges. 

Get the crops planted…

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Another Memorial Day Passed

May 30, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Over the last week with Memorial Day we have honored our service men and women that have fought for our country. Some of them paid the ultimate price. Think of the thousands and thousands that didn’t survive. I was just a little boy when we fought in World War II. Then came the Korean War and Vietnam war. When I was in Basic Officer Training – US. Army at Ft. Benning, GA one of my West Point classmates taught me how to play a guitar. Tears come to my eyes. He was killed in Vietnam.

All kinds of memories come back with Memorial Day respect for our heroes. “Rolling Thunder” with hundreds and hundreds of motorcycles roaring into Washington, DC. My neighbor across the street has ridden several years in that salute to our troops.

I drive by in my car, and sometimes on my bicycle, the Iwo Jima Memorial, the largest bronze statue in the world – just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.

As the war with Japan was raging, we lost 7,000 young men in the battle for Iwo Jima. I have a story about that statue and the six boys – mostly 17, 18, 19 year old kids raising the American flag on top of that hill. This story was told by James Bradley the son of one of those young men holding that flag. The first is John Bradley, Wisconsin, the father of James Bradley. Then we have Gene Gagnon, New Hampshire, next – the old man of the team Sergeant Mike Stark, 24 years old, then Franklin Sousley, Kentucky and Harlan Block, an all-state football player.

The last Marine of that brave team that I want to focus on was Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from Arizona. He survived and did make it back home to the US carrying the pain of seeing only 27 of his 250 Marine buddies make it back. Ira Hayes died at the age of 32 dead drunk, face down, drowned in a ditch. Country music’s great Johnny Cash honors Ira Hayes in a song – “Drunken Ira Hayes.” It is worth listening to.

James Bradley has one last point. If you look at the Iwo Jima statue, count the number of hands holding the flag. There are 13. The man who made the statue was asked why 13 hands and not 12. He said the 13th hand was the hand of God.

God bless our brave heroes that defended our country.

John Block Reports from Washington

Anxiety in Farm Country

May 22, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

I was on the farm last week.  We did get some corn planted but then the rain came again.  Last year at this time we had all our corn and soybeans planted.  The later we are in getting the seed in the ground the lower the yield.  As of last weekend only 11% of corn was planted, in Illinois, 6% in Indiana, 48% in Iowa etc.  The last time the farming industry suffered weather challenges like this was 1992.  Without an abrupt weather change, our yields will suffer a big decline.  A short crop will mean higher prices, which is good.  In fact, we have already seen corn and wheat prices shoot up.  That can help.  But now we have to grow it.  Then we can sell it.

The Ag industry has some big clouds hanging over our heads.  Yes, late planting is discouraging, but we still have a costly trade war with China that seems to be getting worse instead of better.  The Department of Agriculture is working on a $20 billion aid plan to support our industry.  That will help, but farmers would prefer to get their money from the market place.

There is some good news.  President Trump is lifting the tariffs on steel and aluminum that he imposed on Canada and Mexico.  That could open the door for the passage of the US Mexico Canada trade agreement.  Mexico and Canada will be back to buying more of our products.  Tell the Congress to approve USMCA soon.

Our trade negotiations with Japan seem to be making progress.  We have been restricted in beef sales to Japan since 2003.  That’s when we had a couple of cases of mad cow disease and they shut us out for 16 years.  They are buying our beef now.  However, they still have some beef tariffs on our exports which leaves us at a disadvantage.  Our market prices for beef, pork and other meat products are forecast to be strong as we look ahead.  China’s African Swine fever has forced a 30% plunge in sow herd numbers.  The world will be short on pork, and that will increase demand for other meats.

This spring there is a lot of anxiety out in farm and ranch country.  The worry is not at the level it was in the early 1980's when I was Secretary of Agriculture, but it is growing.  We have a very strong national economy, but the Ag industry desperately needs some good news.

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Cannabis – The Wild, Wild West

May 15, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This is Rick Frank sitting in for John Block. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Drive a quarter of a mile in any direction while in San Diego and you will see a largebillboard shouting, “Aches and Pains – Cannabis Delivered to your Door.” These pot billboards are visible for all to see. Medical and recreational cannabis have now been approved in a total of 34 sates. I support decriminalization of pot and, for the most part, legalization. But, I am concerned about stoned drivers on the road and the overly permissive message we are sending to our kids.

The recent Farm Bill provision legalizing hemp and establishing programs for its growth and sale could make matters worse. Marijuana and hemp are from the same plant. Hemp may have a maximum of .3% THC, the substance that gets you high, to qualify under the Farm Bill. While the definition of hemp significantly limits the amount of cannabinoids and THC which are permitted, it will be very difficult to fully regulate this provision.

Questions remain as to the legality of cannabis as an ingredient in food or dietary supplements. The Food and Drug Administration has issued a statement reiterating that cannabis and cannabis-derived substances are not permitted ingredients in food or dietary supplements. The FDA is currently taking comments on this issue and will hold a public hearing at the end of the month. Cannabis has not been shown to be safe when eaten like regular foods and supplements.

Cannabis-related products should not be permitted to make health or medical claims. Cannabis-infused foods or supplements are not drugs, have not been approved by the FDA as drugs, and should not be permitted on the marketplace with these types of medical claims. It would truly be a tragedy if parents or children substituted these improperly promoted foods and supplements for critically necessary drugs.

The cannabis industry, like the distilled spirits industry, should at a minimum voluntarily agree to no health or medical claims for these products and should consider limiting the advertising and promotional vehicles to those which reach an audience primarily over 21.

We need a common sense approach to the production, sale, and use of products containing cannabis. Federal, state, and local authorities should carefully monitor all labeling, advertising, and promotions to make sure there are no health or medical claims for these products.

Until next week, I am Rick Frank reporting from Southern California.

John Block Reports from Washington

Global Economy

May 9, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Is this a global economy or what? We have been in a trade war with China for nearly 2 years. Farm and ranch exports have suffered a dramatic set back. Soybean prices are in the tank and corn is not looking much better right now. Our domestic market can’t save us. We need the world market.

Out of the blue comes African Swine Fever. The disease is fatal to hogs but not harmful to humans. In just a short 6 months China has lost 200 million hogs. Noel White, CEO of Tyson Foods, reports that we can expect a 5% reduction in availability of meat world wide because of ASF.

In order to meet their consumer demand for meat China will have to increase their imports of not just pork, but chicken and beef. Farmers and ranchers in the U.S. with increased meat production suffered with low meat prices last year. This has all changed almost overnight. Domestic supplies of meat in the U.S. will come up short, and prices will rise. I am already seeing this as prices of the hogs we sell have gone up. Amazingly on the other side of the world African Swine Fever strikes and my prices go up. We need a big drought somewhere in the world to give our grains a lift. There is no escaping the reality that we live in a global economy.

Another thing to consider. Even if we get a resolution of the trade disputes with China, with less hogs they won’t need as much corn or soybeans. Dead pigs just don’t eat very much.

Trade talks are expected this week with China. Optimism for a resolution is not what it was. President Trump says China has reneged on their trade commitments and he threatens to add more tariffs. Keep your fingers crossed.

We have trade negotiations with the European Union this week. Where that will go we don’t know because they say, “we are not going to talk about agriculture.”

The U.S. agriculture industry is amazingly productive and efficient. Our production exceeds domestic demand by 25%. We don’t have enough mouths to feed. We need the global market.

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C. If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com

John Block Reports from Washington

Spring 2019

May 1, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Last Sunday former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar died. He served 36 years in the U.S. Senate – what an outstanding leader and great guy. In 1985 we had to write and pass a new farm bill. As Secretary of Agriculture I wanted to create the Conservation Reserve Program. I worked with Senator Lugar to get that done. That spring 1985 I flew to Indianapolis and on the 600-acre Lugar farm with the Senator at my side, I announced the Conservation Reserve Program.

Another experience with Senator Lugar – there’s a picture hanging in my office. I am looking at it now. There we are side by side. This time not on a farm, but in our running clothes with 100 other runners. We had just completed the Gov’t 3 mile run south of USDA. He will be missed.

Now I want to say something about the agricultural chief scientists from 20 countries that met in Japan last week. Their focus was on advancing global food production, science and technology. Population in the world is growing, people are living longer. We are going to need to produce more food. They remind us of the risk that we face with a world population traveling from country to country. Who knows what disease or plant problem may end up in my field.

We worry now about African Swine Fever finding its way to our farms. China has lost 20 percent of their hogs. We don’t have foot and mouth disease, but some other countries do.

On the positive side, in recent years suddenly we have gene editing and genetic engineering technologies that are revolutionizing the food production industry. We can’t imagine what is coming next. It is a good thing that the world’s leading agriculture scientists are looking to the future. With farm income half what it was 4 years ago, river floods and storms – times are tough. We need some good news.

President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe played a round of golf last Saturday. We hope that will lead to a quick Ag- only trade pact with Japan. President Trump travels to Japan later this month. Keep your fingers crossed.

I will close with a quick update on the U.S. Mexico Canada Trade agreement. Passing it is not going to be easy. Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley says if President Trump does not lift steel and aluminum, tariffs on Canada and Mexico, “USMCA is dead.” There are some difficult hurdles, but I still think we can get it done.

John Block Reports from Washington

Down on the Farm April 2019

April 26, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Earlier this week, I was on the farm in Illinois, and I want to talk to you about that.

I had a chance to meet and talk to neighbors and friends, and I always ask them about their concerns.

They want the politicians in Washington to get to work dealing with some of the nation’s problems. They have heard so much about collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice, and they are sick of it. Special Counsel Robert Muller’s report of 448 pages after two years found no collusion with Russia by our President or any other American citizen. It is over, and they didn’t even mention obstruction of justice. Concerns out here in the heartland focus on low prices for corn, soybeans, wheat, even dairy. Farmers want an end to the trade disputes. We are not happy about new restrictions on Cuba. Trade will suffer. Also, on Easter Sunday, they were praying for some good weather. Because of the late spring, planting has been delayed. I will remind everyone that if we do get a break in the weather, our industry is good at what we do. We will put that corn in the ground.

On another subject – the crisis on our Southern border is not going away. Now, we have civilian militia groups patrolling the U.S.-Mexican border. There are so many illegals crashing the border that ICE and the military can’t stop the flow. Not that we don’t need legal immigration. Here in rural America, the support for border security is close to unanimous.

And the last priority out here in the nation’s heartland is infrastructure – roads, bridges, rivers, locks and dams, etc. This is a national need that Republicans and Democrats should be able to work on together.

Here on the Block farm, we are ready to start the planting, weather permitting. Our hogs are healthy and happy. Since the African Swine Fever cut Chinese hog production, our pork prices have jumped up. Even with the low grain prices, farmland prices are holding steady. The farming business is full of uncertainty. There is so much that we can’t control. But I love it.

I am John Block, just back from the farm. If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com

John Block Reports from Washington

What’s Ahead

April 18, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

This weekend I will be on my farm in Illinois.  When I booked my flight, I thought we might be planting corn.  Not likely – too much rain.

At this moment I am looking at the latest U.S. Dept of Agriculture projections for crop carry over after harvesting this fall.  Ending stocks of corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton are all projected to be at record or near record levels.  It is shocking to look at these charts – especially soybean carry over – almost 900 million bushels.

Farms today are looking at low prices.  Unless weather problems cut production, the global harvest prices will not respond.  Perhaps the only hope rests on trade to elevate demand.  We need buyers for surplus farm commodities.

I think President Trump’s tariffs and trade disputes can deliver positive results, but we are paying a short-term price.

It is encouraging that there are positive vibes coming from our trade negations with China.  We have an election coming up in 2020 and you can be assured President Trump needs a deal he can tweet about.  Keep in mind that China’s economy is suffering.  The tariffs have taken a toll.  In the first quarter of 2019, China’s imports increased 1.4% and exports dropped 4.8%.  With African Swine Fever Chinese pork imports will explode.  This year projections are for a 41% surge.

Now that I mention ASF I compliment the National Pork Producers Council for cancelling the annual trade show this June.  Too much risk of bringing swine fever to our shores.  The right decision.  

Trade talks have been going on this week with Japan our fourth largest foreign market – Japan bought $13 billion worth of Ag products last year.  Our U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has been leading those negotiations.  We have been losing some of the Japanese market because with the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement in business now, without us those members have an advantage.  I expect the negotiations with Japan to advance quickly and we can reclaim our priority position with Japan.

Here is another high priority for US Agriculture and North America – We need to ratify the US-Mexico-Canada agreement and lift our tariffs on Canada and Mexico.

Farm country wants and needs to get something done.  Put the heat on our government representatives.  Can’t wait to get to the farm…

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Creativity

April 11, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

From farm to fork the food industry is doing more than its share to hold inflation down.  The US Department of Agriculture projects only a 1 percent increase in the cost to feed your family this year.  The past 20 years the average annual increase has been 2 percent.  Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue had this to say, “I intend to help USDA live up to our motto to do right and feed everyone.”

We are creative.  The food and Ag industry are changing all the time.  When I grew up we had to cultivate our corn twice.  Maybe hire high school kids to hoe the weeds.  Not today – we just spray a weed killer.  Weeds are gone.  Less trips over the field.  Less labor and double the yield.  The world will continue to produce an abundance of food with precision farming, genetically modified crops and new technology that we can’t imagine today.

I read that nitrogen fixing corn may be on the horizon.  That could really cut the cost of raising corn.  We are growing meat in the lab now.  We should not call it meat.

 Also, Burger King and some other fast food restaurants are selling the impossible burger.  You can order a Big Mac beef burger.  Or a plant based Schamberger.  No beef.

Reports say it tastes just like the real deal – Big Mac.  Combine the miracle of heme, a chemical found in animal blood with soy protein and we have a meatless burger.  Somehow the heme makes it taste like beef.  Farmers and especially cattle ranchers are not happy with Schamberger.  How many customers will buy the Impossible Berger instead of the beef burger?  The Impossible Berger cost more.

We have a growing number of people that say they want “natural” food.  They don’t want processed food.  Well, that new Schamberger doesn’t seem natural to me.  There is no limit to the creativity of a free economy.

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Swine Fever & USMCA

April 4, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

 And now for today’s commentary –

What should we focus on today?  Let’s start with African Swine Fever.  ASF is the deadliest disease threatening the pork industry.  It is estimated that China has lost as much as 30% of their swine.  We don’t have any vaccine to protect our pigs.  Fortunately, the virus does not infect humans.  With the liquidation of so many animals in China, pork prices have skyrocketed.  Our pork exports to China are off the chart.  ASF is spreading to other countries including eastern Europe.  We need to do everything we can to keep it out of the U.S.  If we get African Swine Fever, other countries will shut down all our pork exports.

Now that we are talking about trade let me suggest that of all the legislation that needs to be passed, perhaps the most important is USMCA.

USMCA is the new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada – an improved and updated NAFTA.  It should be easy to get it passed but it won’t be.  Some Democrats want changes in the deal.  It’s also a fact that they don’t want Trump to win anything.  President Trump isn’t helping the effort since he wants to keep steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico and Canada.  Senator Grassley said, “we’ve got to get rid of the tariffs or nothing is going to happen.”  He is right.

Last subject – GMO’s and Gene Editing.  Science is making it possible to do things that former generations never imagined.  Most of the corn, soybeans and some other crops that we grow are not what they used to be.  With genetic engineering, they resist root worms and other critters that can damage the plants.  The plants are not affected by our weed killers either.  We get a big bump in yield with less labor and energy.

We have a gene editing technique called CRISPR which has given us cows born without horns.  GMO technology makes it possible to move a gene from one organism to another.  When scientists do gene editing they can just alter one particular gene in an animal.  They are not bringing in outside genes.  All this science has opened the door to the most shocking announcement. But not surprising, a Chinese scientist moved ahead with gene-editing of humans.  What’s next – designer babies?

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

No Collusion

March 28, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.

Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

After 2 long years of distraction and political attacks, Special Counsel Muller released his report.  “The Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with the Russian government.”  “The Witch Hunt” is over and done with.  The cloud is lifted.  Attorney General William Barr ruled- “No evidence to support obstruction of justice.”  It is time for our elected government officials to focus on the real issues facing our country.  I don’t suggest we should not hold Russia accountable, but we do have other things to do.  We have a crisis of 1 million illegals crashing our southern border.  Each day border patrol officers are releasing into our country 1,000 immigrant family members. (each day – 1,000.)  Some members of Congress are saying it’s nothing – Don’t worry about it.  They are wrong.  Laws are being broken and our border security is failing.  Our elected officials – both parties should negotiate a legislative solution.  We need legal workers to butcher the hogs and pick the strawberries.  Citizens of this country should demand action.

We have other work to do.  How about fixing our roads and bridges and especially locks and dams?  If we are going to be a world leader, we need an infrastructure that will deliver the goods.  Think about it this way.  To get this done will be costly.  But for those of us that use roads, bridges and waterways, we should pay a “users fee.”  How about raising the gas tax?  It has not been increased for more than 35 years.  Be creative.

I was on a conference call yesterday with AG leaders across the country.  It was the Trump AG team.  The governor of Nebraska updated us on the damage the storms have inflicted.  In Nebraska and surrounding states more than 5 million baby calves were drowned.  Millions of acres under water.  Our waterways are so old.  They need a lot of work.

Another very important piece of work for our Congress – get to work and pass our new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada (USMCA).  It’s good for agriculture and good for our country.

Finally, thank you to the Trump Administration for their decision to delist the gray wolf as an endangered species.  We have more than 5,000 gray wolves in the U.S. and Canada has 50,000. And the Canadian wolves don’t even have to get a passport to cross the border.  Maybe we can prevent them from killing our baby calves and sheep.  That does it for this week.

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Issues of the Day

March 21, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.

Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Let’s begin with hemp.  When I was a little boy, hemp was growing wild on the roadsides and ditches.  It was harvested to make rope during World War II.  It is a close relative of marijuana, but it is not the same.  Our government still outlawed the growing of hemp along with marijuana.  But now pot is getting a green light in most states and that has opened the door for hemp.

With surpluses and low prices for most farm crops, there is a wild rush to grow hemp to make money.  The number one state now is Kentucky.  Kentucky hemp sales skyrocketed last year by 3½ times the year before.  Prices doubled.  For this year the state of Kentucky has approved 50,000 acres for hemp production.  Farmers are still waiting to find out how USDA and FDA will regulate cannabis-based products.  At last – hemp has a future.

Farms in the Midwest have had to deal with a tough winter.  Recent floods have brought serious damage.  No question planting season will be delayed.  We just don’t know how long.  We keep hoping the weather uncertainty should lift grain prices.  A positive development – look to China.  With China’s African Swine Fever epidemic, their hog numbers have crashed by 16%.  Keep in mind pork is China’s number one meat.  China bought 52 million pounds of U.S. pork last week.  Hope we can get a trade deal.  Then – our grain exports will explode.

This week President Trump has been talking trade with Brazil.  Those talks may offer some hope for agriculture.  But be aware Brazil wants tariff free access to our sugar market.

Turn to Europe – President Trump says he wants the EU to get serious about our trade negotiations.  They refuse to even talk about AG trade.  That’s nothing new.  They have always looked for a non-tariff barrier, or any way to block our AG exports.  That’s not fair trade.

The EPA is moving to allow year-round use of E15 (15% ethanol fuel).  Consumers need to pressure fuel stations to make it available.  Big oil doesn’t want that competition.  Increasing the gallons of ethanol in our fuel is a big deal for corn farmers.  It is a good thing.  Costs less than petroleum and burns cleaner.

Finally, I don’t want to miss the chance to put this on the table – GE salmon (genetically engineered).  I want to buy it and eat it.  It has been approved by FDA for sale and should be in the supermarket this year.

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

The President’s Budget

March 13, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. 

They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.

Thank you.

  And now for today’s commentary –

Issues of the Day.  The President’s Budget.  If everything goes according to plan, when we enter our next fiscal year, October 1, we will have a budget passed by the Congress with President Trump’s signature.  The process has started.  It is a 4.7 trillion-dollar budget.  President Trump wants an increase in defense spending and a cut in almost all non-defense discretionary programs.  The White House proposal calls for a sharp reduction of 30% for the EPA; 22% cut for Transportation and 15% cut for the Department of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Veteran Affairs and Defense all get a bump up.  And, of course, more money for border security. 

Now before we scream too loud in protest or cheer in support, keep in mind that Presidential budgets are designed to let the public know what the President’s priorities are.  When all is said and done the Congress writes the budget.  Congressional critics are already saying the President’s budget is “dead on arrival.”  From my point of view, a 5% cut across the board in our next budget would be alright with me.  I don’t support another big increase in defense spending either.  We already have, by far, the biggest military in the world, and we are pressing other countries to pay more.

With a closer look at the budget plan for USDA, there are work requirements for food stamp recipients, a reduction in government spending on crop insurance, and conservation programs, and about everything else.  The budget with a 15% cut does not match up very well with the farm bill passed last fall.

Now that we are talking about a budget let’s take a look at the nation’s debt.  The debt level has exceeded 22.2 trillion dollars and is rising.  Both political parties are quick to spend money.  That’s how you get elected.  I understand President’s Trump effort to spend less and maybe someday we could balance our budget.  This debt load will be on the shoulders of our children and grandchildren.

The Congress is supposed to complete the budget by September 30th.  We can expect a brutal political fight in the process.

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C

  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Land Grab

March 6, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Did you know that Congress passed legislation authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund to spend 9 billion dollars to buy private land?  The Department of Interior doesn’t have the money to take care of the millions of acres they own now.  This “land grab” Bill, 700 pages in length has gotten almost no attention.  The federal government already owns almost 1/3 of the land in our country.  Look at a map of our Western states.  The federal government owns almost half of the land in the West.

I thought we would favor private property.  The government should not be using our tax money to buy our land from us.  We should be using private land to feed our cows, drill for oil, mine for gold.  Our government already has way too much land. 

Much of the land the government owns now could be put to much better use.  Lease it out to private business and raise our infrastructure.  Two weeks ago, the Trump Administration opened 57,000 acres of federal land for lease by ranchers and energy companies.  The sage-grouse lovers were really angry.  Let them scream.  That grouse doesn’t own the land.  The American people do.

The Democratic House voted for the “land grab” bill - not surprised.  But the Senate did also.  Now the only chance to kill this ridiculous legislation is for a Presidential veto.  President Trump has not vetoed any bills since elected.  This is his chance.   

In the days of Newt Gingrich leadership in the House he said, “Congress shall allow no net loss of private property to the Feds.  For every acre the government plans to purchase or seize, it must sell off at least one acre in return.”  That is the rule we should insist on now.

I thank Steven Moore a fellow at the Heritage Foundation for alerting me about this land grab socialism.

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

China and N. Korea

February 27, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. 

They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Priority government issues of the day would have to be trade negotiations with China and President Trump’s meeting with N. Korea leader Kim Jong-un.

Our Ag industry has been hurt because China stopped buying our products when President Trump imposed tariffs on a long list of Chinese exports.  He did that because China’s trade policies are not fair.  Someone needed to pressure China to clean up their act.

Serious top-level talks are in process this week.  A positive outcome will do more to help lift our farmers and ranchers than any other single thing.  After two bad years, and the 2019 projections are not good, we need a lift.  President Trump knows this.  He also knows that with the Presidential election coming up in less than two years, he needs a victory. 

President Trump has postponed any increase in new tariffs as talks continue.  I expect to see a big jump in our sales to China as a final trade deal is hammered out the sooner the better. 

Issue number 2 – President Trump is in Vietnam this week-not a vacation.  He is meeting with “little rocket man” Kim Jong-un.  We hear all this nice friendly talk, but whether N. Korea will back off from nuclear weapons is questionable.  The fact that they are meeting in Vietnam just might suggest to the N. Korean leader that his country might want to get on the road to prosperity and success that Vietnam chose after the war with U.S.

North Korea is impoverished, while Vietnam has a thriving economy with its business industry booming.  Its economy is growing at 7%.  Vietnam is still communist, but with a market economy, the country has global respect.  Compare that to N. Korea -  all they have that might get your attention is their military marching.  With all kinds of trade restriction on N. Korea and other countries thriving like S. Korea next door.  You might think Mr. Kim would be smart enough to give up his nukes and join the family of nations.  Let’s hope President Trump can convince him to do that.

Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington, D.C

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Debt

February 21, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. 

They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.

Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Our economy is booming.  Job growth in 2018 averaged 220,000 new jobs each month.  419,000 workers have come back to work.  The labor force participation rate is up to 63.1 percent.  Wages are up an impressive 3.2 percent.  Unemployment for blacks, Hispanics, and women is at historic lows.

Manufacturing added 32,000 new jobs in December and the elite said, “no hope for manufacturing.”  Finally, high school graduates without college are being recruited by corporations to come to work.  It is about time.  Big companies complaining about not having enough qualified workers have come to understand – if you need help recruit and train.  I love it.  A lot of people that were having a hard time are now in demand.

We should be delighted that our economy is firing on all cylinders.  So – what is there for us to worry about?  The answer is our national debt.  Our debt as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is 77.7 percent.  Japan is at 155 percent and Italy 118 percent.  China’s could be higher than ours.  The reckless fiscal policies of Greece all but bankrupted that country. The European Union bailed them out.

Our national debt is 22 trillion dollars and will be rising by at least another trillion each year as we look ahead.  Here is what Robert Samuelson, a respected economist that writes for the Washington Post had to say: “It is conventional wisdom in Washington that Republican addiction to tax cuts are mainly responsible for the huge budget deficit. That is, at best, a half-truth.  Democrats are equally responsible because they refuse to come to grips with the massive spending on retirement and health care.”

In December 2012 six years ago on my radio program I quoted Samuelson.  Here is what his Washington Post column said then: “It’s the welfare state, stupid.” He is right.  We can’t afford to keep shoveling money out the door that we don’t have.  There are steps that can be taken to control spending and raise more tax money.  Won’t be easy.  Politicians won’t get elected if they take anything away.

Today all the talk in this town is Green, New Deal, Socialism. That guarantees more debt.

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

John Block Reports from Washington

Optimism

February 13, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. 

They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Optimism is in the air.  Pessimism is being crowded out.  The second government shut down that looked like a certainty is not going to happen.  President Trump will not get the amount of money he wanted for a wall, but he gets enough to get started.  It will be argued that President Trump caved on the border security fight, but there is other money in the bill to improve security with new technology.  It’s time to move on to other priorities.

At the top of that list is a deal with China to end the costly tariff war.  U.S. Leadership including U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are in Beijing negotiating this week.  President Trump has said he is prepared to delay the planned 25% increase in tariffs scheduled for March 1st if real progress is made.  There is reason to think that both U.S. and China want a deal.  Trumps AG supporters are getting desperate for more trade and the dispute is seriously hurting China’s economy with this stock market down more than 20%.  If our negotiating team in Beijing can reach a positive agreement, then President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet at a later date.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Last week the government released the carry over level of corn, soybean and wheat in storage.  Our farm corn stocks are down 4% from one year ago.  However, our farm soybean stocks are up 30% from last year.  On the plus side the grain in storage is still less than the trade expected.  I don’t predict any explosive price increase but a trade deal with China would help. 

This week I was at a luncheon where House Ag Committee Chairman Peterson spoke.  I have known him for years.  He is a great guy with common sense and good judgement.  He is optimistic about the new farm bill that we were fortunate to have passed last year.  It didn’t get tangled up in the government shutdown.  Ag Committees are usually not very partisan.  There was pressure to impose added work requirements on food stamp recipients, but that didn’t go anywhere.  Chairman Peterson was optimistic that the new farm bill will be good for agriculture and can be implemented quickly.  The Chairman has always worked with both parties.  He is a Democrat elected in a district that voted by a wide margin for Trump.

I like it when optimism rules over pessimism.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

  Until next week, this John Block reports.

John Block Reports from Washington

Gov. Ralph Northam

February 7, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. 

They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

  And now for today’s commentary –

We all live with a new reality today.  Nothing is secret, and if you are in government or in a high-level executive position, someone will be out to bring you down.  Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has been exposed in a black face racist photograph in a 1984 medical school year book.  There you see a black face guy right beside a Ku Klux Klan person. Shocked to see the picture in the news, Governor Northam said he had never seen the year book picture, but he agreed that it could be his picture.  The next day he said he didn’t think it was his picture.  He did admit that year he had blackened his face to do a Michael Jackson dance. 

  No question, the picture is racially offensive.  However, at this point we have not heard anyone saying that the Governor is racist.  In years past we were more inclined to give a person the benefit of the doubt if they have changed their ways.  When I served as Sec of Ag Senator Robert Byrd represented West Virginia, and he had the full support of the Democratic party.  This was in spite of the fact that he had been a KKK officer.  Also, somehow President Clinton survived politically after his affair with an intern in the White House.

  Governor Northam is under intense pressure to resign, especially from his own party.  But will he?

  Keep in mind that picture was taken 35 years ago.  At this point, reports suggest that the Governor is not racist.  He is a good guy.  Now I live in Virginia, Northam’s state.  I didn’t vote for him.  I voted for his Republican opponent.  However, I think redemption and forgiveness is God’s way.  He should not resign.  There are too many individuals that just want to destroy someone that might be a political liability.  Just this last year Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court was almost derailed because of his high school yearbook. 

  You may want to check your high school yearbook.  Someone might want to get some dirt on you.  I checked mine.  I think I am O.K.

  The big event this week was President Trumps State of the Union address.  I think he did a very good job.  But can the 2 parties compromise and get something done.  Won’t be easy.

  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com.

  Until next week, this John Block reporting from Washington

John Block Reports from Washington

From the Farm

January 31, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -  

This week I was in Peoria, Illinois speaking to the Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association.  I am on my farm now broadcasting on the phone. 

Farmers and ag suppliers had a lot of concerns about the government shut down.  But now that the shut down is behind us for now, maybe we can concentrate on trade.  Don’t forget that we export 1 out of every 3 acres to other countries.  Ninety percent of food consumers live in other countries.

We have until the end of February and then new tariffs will be imposed unless the U.S. and China can make some progress on our trade dispute.  Those tariffs could shoot up from 10% to 25%.  The most difficult trade issue is China’s reluctance to refrain from stealing our technology.  There is no doubt that the trade war has taken a toll on the Chinese economy.  Their stock market has tanked by 20%.  Hopefully, we have some leverage now to get reform.  Keep in mind that their economy isn’t very free. It is government owned.

On the government shut down issue, President Trump is still insisting on a wall to secure our Southern border. Republicans and Democrats and Trump need to sit down and find a compromise. It is unacceptable for our government to be so dysfunctional. 

Here I am on the farm.  It is so cold – below zero.  Our baby pigs are warm in their heated barns.  I have never seen healthier hogs.  We have another trailer load headed for market.  Their line weight is close to 300 pounds.  Prices are soft on pork, corn, soybeans, and other products.  Too much supply.  Ag industry’s net income is half what it was 4 years ago. Congress needs to approve the trade deal with Mexico and Canada (USMCA). 

One last thought –- we need to cut our government spending.  Our debt is rising every year.  We just can’t help ourselves. We spend too much.  60% of our budget is on automatic pilot.  If we don’t act, our annual deficit will exceed 1 trillion dollars. 

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Change

January 23, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -  

When I go back to my farm in Illinois and drive down our country roads, I can’t help but think about the unbelievable change since I was a boy.  I went to a one-room country school for 8 years.  That school is gone.  The High School in a little town of 200 people closed just before I graduated from the 9th grade.  I take note of many farm houses along country roads that are gone today.  The farms have consolidated.  We have 4000 acres of crop land today.  As a boy, we had 150 acres.

With airline flights, better roads, and better cars, people travel at will to other states, even other countries.  Our citizens today are not tied to one place as we were when I grew up.  I didn’t get out of the state until I was a senior in high school and attended the National FFA Convention in Kansas City.

In recent years, many of our citizens have left their homes to find opportunity.  They are looking for a better paying job.  Look at how they flocked to North Dakota because of the oil boom. 

The Cato Institute has numbers that verify another powerful driving force – taxes.  Tax policies of some states and cities are driving their residents away.  In 2016, 600,000 residents moved from the 25 high-tax states to the 25 low-tax states.  Hardest hit was New Jersey, with its 8.97% top tax rate.  New York was not far behind.  Even beautiful California, with a 13.3% tax rate, lost residents.  Many people went to Texas, Nevada, and Washington, where they have no state income tax.  The biggest winner is Florida, where there is no state income tax.

I know what you are thinking.  They just go South because it is cold up in New York.  However, New Hampshire and Washington state are both up north, but with no state income tax their population is growing at a healthy clip.

We have a very mobile population today, and they are looking for a better job, a better life, and a chanced to prosper.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Trade

January 17, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -  

For some time now on the question of trade, all we have focused on is our trade war with China.  I will talk about that today.  But I also want to remind everyone that trade differences with Europe should also be in the spotlight.

China – we just completed a round of productive negotiations with China.  That discussion was only the first step.  It provides a foundation for the next round of negotiations when U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer will be there.  At this point, China has committed to buy more goods and services from the U.S.  They approved the imports of 5 new varieties of genetically modified crops.  They have gone back to buying soybeans but are way behind former years.  There are other unresolved issues, including China’s huge subsidies for some of their government-owned companies.  A way to protect our intellectual property is still up for debate.  I am optimistic, but it is not done until it’s done.

Turning to Europe – our trade deficit with Europe has come in at $120 billion for the last 4 years.  Last year, Europe promised to buy more from us to help balance trade differences.  They agreed to lift non-tariff barriers.  Give Europe credit for one thing – they are buying more soybeans and liquified natural gas.  However, we’re not getting very much done.  Here is what Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the EU, had to say: “So long as the EU leadership plays the delay game, the more we’ll have to use leverage.”  Does that mean a tariff was with the EU?

We all understood that the EU Commission President and President Trump made a deal last summer: “Work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods.”

But here is one of the most disturbing messages from the EU – they say they are not going to negotiate any trade deals on ag products.  They don’t want GE foods.  Most of our beef and dairy products can’t get in the door because we use growth hormones.  I can say from years of experience that Europe has never been free and open to our products.  I am happy that President Trump is taking a strong stand.  We need to – good luck.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Cabinet Luncheon 2018

January 9, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -  

Christmas is behind us and the New Year is off to a wild start.  But today, I want to talk about the Cabinet Secretaries luncheon that we held on December 14, just before Christmas.  The luncheon was held at the Blair House – just across the street from the White House. 

Here is some history:  In 1981, the first year of the Ronald Reagan Administration, Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis scheduled a Christmas luncheon for the Reagan Cabinet members at the Madison Hotel.  Six of us attended, including Vice President Bush.  The event grew and by 1985, Marshall Coyne (owner of the Madison Hotel) and I became the lead team.  We decided to make it bipartisan and started including all Cabinet members from previous Administrations.  The next year, we extended the invitation to spouses.

This last December 14, we had more than 40 Cabinet members celebrating the holidays.  The Trump Administration had 10 Cabinet members in attendance, which was much more than any other Administration.  I was happy to see five Secretaries of Agriculture.

For entertainment, we have not had a speaker.  We ask for predictions from the guests.  Some predictions are very serious and some just make you laugh.

Jim Burnley said, “We will reach a trade agreement with China.”  I hope he is right.

Thurgood Marshall said that there will be 21 candidates running for President in 2020.  A lot are talking about it now.

Alice Rivlin said, “On the issue of divided government, we will see the first step in bipartisanship.”  Well, I hope she is right, but we haven’t seen it yet.

“Army will beat Navy next year.”  I don’t know who said that, but I agree.

Jim Woolsey predicted that “the President of France will call a press conference and apologize to the U.S. for what he has said about President Trump and the U.S.  That will occur at about the same time that pigs fly.”

Alex Azar predicted, “There will be two more vacancies on the Supreme Court before the end of this Administration.”  And, I say:  If he is right, that is a big deal.  Trump has already filled two vacancies.

  Finally, I said:  “Next year will be a lot better for farmers.  It can’t get a lot worse.”

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Happy New Year

January 4, 2019

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -  

Happy New Year to everyone.  Today, I want to look back over last year and make some predictions for 2019.

Looking back for the U.S.A., it was a very good year.  Lowest unemployment in the last 50 years; wages up; consumer confidence riding high with 3% growth.  If we focus on agriculture – not so good.  Farm income is cut in half from the peak 4 years ago.  Our trade conflict with China has hurt our exports – especially soybeans. 

Keep in mind that we still have low interest rates.  Remember 16-18 percent interest in the early 1980s?  We’re not burdened with the debt like we were then either.

Let’s look ahead to this new year.  We need better prices.  We won’t see better prices if the world continues to over-produce.  Surplus weighs on prices.  No one can predict the weather, but after 3 years of favorable crop weather in the U.S. and South America, maybe we could see a little less production.

Something else we can hope for would be an end to the trade war – that would lift prices.  I predict that President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will not raise tariffs but will begin cutting them to end the trade conflict.

I also expect the new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada will be confirmed by our Congress.  We will also complete a new trade agreement with Japan.

President Trump is backing away from engagement in the Middle East.  We will spend less money on other nations and avoid war.

The government’s partial shut-down will be resolved this month.  It won’t last 21 days like President Clinton’s shut-down did.  We all know President Trump wants a wall to secure our border.  The Democrats can’t stand to give in to his demand, even though most of them voted for a wall and border security before the Trump Presidency.  This is all politics.  A possible win-win for both sides could provide $5 billion for a wall and legal status for 1.7 million “dreamers” and other young immigrants.

Even the liberal Washington Post supports that idea. Editorial read:  “A wall for dreamers” would benefit both parties in the long run.

One more prediction:  we will be able to make progress in pushing North Korea to denuclearize this year. Last year, I predicted a 10% stock market increase.  Wrong on that – we experienced an 8% decline for the year.  Anyway, I predict a 0% increase for this year.

Last prediction:  Trump will not be impeached.

Don’t bet the farm on my predictions.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Middle East

December 26, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -  

I know.  I was wrong.  I said we would avoid a government shutdown.  Congress won’t appropriate money for a wall to block the surge of illegals over our southern border.  President Trump won’t sign a bill that doesn’t provide money for a wall.  It’s a stubborn standoff.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

The partial shutdown affects about 25% of our federal employees – sitting at home will be about 800,000 workers.  But when they get called back to work, they will be paid for all the days they didn’t work.  That’s paid vacation.  Keep in mind most of our government is already funded through September 2019.   We have 320 million people in our country and most of them will never notice the partial shutdown – unless it goes on for a long time.

  I want to focus on President Trump’s decision to pull our troops out of Syria and cut in half our fighters in Afghanistan.  Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was not in agreement with that decision and decided to resign.  It is not a surprise.  President Trump has wanted to exit that Middle East quagmire from day one.  President Obama was trying to get out, but advisors kept pushing him to commit more troops.  We have taken back most of the territory that ISIS fighters occupied.  At one time, ISIS had more than 100,000 troops and now have less than 10,000.  Let Syria and Russia clean up the mess and pay to rebuild.  It’s their responsibility now.

  Some “war hawk” members of Congress think this is a disastrous decision.  That’s not what most of our citizens believe.  They are sick and tired of fighting in the middle east.  It has cost us $7.6 trillion, and 7,000 lives. 

  We must acknowledge our departure will make Syrian President Bashar al-Assad happy.  Russia and Iran will be glad to see us gone.  But it is my judgment that it is not the U.S.’s responsibility to be “policeman” to the world.  We can’t afford it.  Let someone else be responsible for peace and order.  Good luck in trying to bring peace and order to the Middle East.  Remember, the U.K. once occupied Afghanistan.  They left.  Then, in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  That didn’t work.  They left.  We have been at war in Afghanistan for 17 years.  Maybe it’s time to hit the trail.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Busy Week

December 19, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -  

Last Friday, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue hosted a breakfast at the Department of Agriculture’s executive dining room for former Secretaries of Agriculture.  In attendance were Mike Johanns, Ann Veneman, Dan Glickman, and Yours Truly.  Mike Espy and Tom Vilsack were unable to attend.  We talked about all the challenges that the ag industry faces today.  That bipartisan meeting is valuable for Secretary Perdue and the whole food industry.  Unlike the Congress, there was a lot of unity in that room.

Let me put on the table the hot ag issues of today and where we are.

Do you want to be required to get a permit to dig a ditch or drain a wet hole on your farm?  President Obama issued a rule expanding the Waters of the U.S. regulation of wetlands and ditches.  The Trump Administration is clawing that back because it is overreach, and farmers don’t need that kind of interference.  The fight is not over because environmentalists will challenge the new rule in court.

This week, President Trump is expected to sign a new farm bill.  No one was sure it would get done, but we will have a five-year bill that provides some certainty.  The new bill is not dramatically different from the one we had.  It does help dairy farmers a little more.  We have a huge surplus of milk and especially cheese.  The Dairy Program is too complicated to talk about.  The work requirements in the House bill were eliminated because that was a non-starter.  Anyway, thank you to the Congress for getting one very important bipartisan piece of legislation done.

Let’s talk about trade.  At last, China is back to buying our soybeans.  How much?  We shall see.  I think China is going to make some concessions on trade.  Their economy is not doing so great.  I know that our stock market is slightly lower today than it was one year ago, but the Chinese market is down 20%.  Hope I’m not too optimistic.  Turn away from soybeans and look at pork and beef.  Record exports in 2018.  Also, 2019 is projected up again.

You may know the answer to the next question by the time you hear this program.  Will we face a federal government shutdown?  Or, will the Congress fund the wall demanded by President Trump?

Maybe there is some compromise or Congress could just kick the can down the road with a short-term funding deal.  I predict no shutdown.

Merry Christmas!

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Congressional Agenda

December 11, 2018

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And now for today’s commentary -  

Last week, I attended the beautiful service at the National Cathedral for our 41st President George H.W. Bush.  On the radio, I talked about the George Bush that I knew.  This week, we will move on.  Here is where we are right now.

We are more than two months into our new fiscal year and 30% of our federal government agencies have only temporary funding until December 21st.  70% of our government operations, including Defense and welfare programs are funded.  However, the Justice Department, Homeland Security, Transportation, and Agriculture are not funded after December 21, and will be shut down if the Congress fails to act.  There are a number of political differences concerning what those bills should include.  President Trump has said that he might veto the legislation if it doesn’t include $5 billion for a border wall.

The House bill provides for the full $5 billion, but the Senate bill has only $1.6 billion, and that money can only be used for security – no wall.  Those two bills will have to be negotiated.  Find some middle ground.  Then the question is if President Trump will sign, or do we see a partial shut-down of our government over Christmas?

Another subject fighting the ticking clock – we don’t have a farm bill.  The last bill expired on October 1 and the Congress has not passed a new bill.  The differences between the House and Senate have been ironed out.  Pass our farm bill this week! 

Some positive news – the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement has been signed by each country.  However, the Agreement must now be confirmed by the legislators.  That may not be so simple.  There are some Democrats that don’t want President Trump to get a victory on this.  I still believe we can get it done.

A big surprise that may hurt our chances of negotiating a positive trade deal with China came out of nowhere.  Well – it came out of Canada where their government, at our request, arrested the Chief Financial Officer of a powerful Chinese technology company.  I guess that company was on our list for stealing technology and improper trade deals.  This new development could result in a huge Chinese backlash against the U.S – just when we were hoping for an end to the trade war.

Stay tuned – we have 90 days to make some progress.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

President Bush

December 5, 2018

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And now for today’s commentary -  

The passing of President George H. W. Bush has brought the whole nation to focus on his life and the contributions that he made to our country.  President Reagan brought the Soviet Union down, but President Bush managed the clean-up of the Cold War.  Eastern Europe emerged from the Berlin Wall.  Although his service as President was only one term, he served President Reagan for 8 years.  I don’t need to dwell so much on his accomplishments because they have been all over the news.

Let me tell you a little about the George Bush that I knew.  When I arrived in Washington,
D.C. as President Reagan’s Secretary of Agriculture in 1981, that was when I first met Vice President Bush.  He was aware that I was a runner and one Friday he called me and asked if I would like to do a training run with him.  He said, “Just meet me at my house.”  I did.  His chauffer drove us to a bike trail and off we went.  After the run, we went back to his house where we had a coke.  We did that many times.

There was a 10K run and he asked if I would run it with him.  I met him at his house and then into the limo and off we went.  Just before the race was supposed to start, his security officer told me that the Vice President wouldn’t be able to do the run because they had been informed that President Reagan would be returning to the White House from the hospital.

You may recall he had been shot earlier that month.  I understood that the Vice President should meet with the President upon his return from the hospital, but I asked if we couldn’t just do the run.  I said, “We’ll run fast.”  The security detail agreed.  We ran the race, jumped into the limo and drove to the White House.  We were both sweating from the run.  I wasn’t aware, but Bush had his suit with him.  He changed in the back of the limo – with shirt and tie.  He looked great – ready to greet President Reagan.  I looked a mess in shorts and sweaty shirt.  Anyway, we did greet the President.  I tried to stay out of sight most of the time.

I knew President Bush as a wonderful human being.  He was on my farm in Illinois when we welcomed farm leaders from across the country.  I am happy that he has been receiving the gratitude and respect that he deserves.

Next week, we’ll talk about the farm bill and trade.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

South Africa

November 28, 2018

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And now for today’s commentary -  

If someone had told me two months ago that forest management would be holding up a new farm bill, I would have just laughed at them.  But since the wild fires in California, forest thinning and logging are supported by conservatives.  Environmentalists can’t stand the idea.  I still think we can pass a farm bill this year.

Today, I want to talk about South Africa.  I have been there, although not recently.  It is good farm country.  They export corn and a long list of other products.  South Africa has operated as a market economy, and private property has always been respected.  South Africa’s new President Ramaphosa came to office in February, and recently announced his plan to “change the nation’s constitution, to allow the expropriation of farmland with no compensation.”  Oh – if he can’t get the Constitution changed, they are so generous – he will give $20 million for farms worth $200 million.  What about property rights?

Yes, it’s true, whites make up 9% of the country’s population and they own 75% of the farm land.  But is it right to just steal it from them and give it to the blacks?  Keep in mind most of the white farm families paid for it, they have farmed it for more than 100 years, and have built successful farming businesses.

A friend of mine had his family farm confiscated by Zimbabwe President Mugabe.  Zimbabwe had been a food exporting country.  After the land steal, production collapsed, unemployment hit record highs, and there was hunger everywhere.  Wealthy countries have no interest in investing in Zimbabwe because they don’t trust the government.  Countries that don’t respect personal property rights are not going to attract investment. 

Look at another country – Venezuela.  That country was considered to be one of the most successful in South America.  I was so impressed when I visited in the 1980s.  But since the Communist government took over most of the businesses, it is now a basket case.  People are hungry and fleeing to Colombia and Brazil by the thousands.  Nations that prosper rely on a market economy and respect the rule of law.

In closing this week, we are all watching President Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.  We need to begin to wind down our trade war.

Also, some good news – the Supreme Court voted 8-0 that private land cannot be stolen for the endangered gopher frog.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Elite Food Standards and More

November 21, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -  

Thank you, God, for all of our blessings.  Look at the turmoil, poverty, and destruction around the world.  On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s not fail to appreciate our nation and our people.  (I’m glad that we live here.)

The cost of your Thanksgiving dinner has fallen for the third year in a row.  That turkey in the oven cost 4.9% less than last month.  Enjoy.

Here are some hot issues.

Farm bill – lawmakers are out of town, but staff are working to get a deal that their Members can approve in December.  Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts is optimistic.

Our newly negotiated trade agreement with Mexico and Canada needs to be signed.  But we still have tariffs on steel and aluminum from Mexico and Canada, and they have duties on $15 billion of our exports.  Congress is not going to approve the trade agreement until duties are lifted.

A long-time friend of mine, Gary Baise, has a very good article in “Farm Futures” which focuses on an issue which needs to be addressed – trade between the states.  In the very early years of the U.S. when we had only 13 states, each state put up all kinds of trade restrictions.  It was so bad that in 1787 the framers of the Constitution concluded that there must be a commerce clause giving Congress the right “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states and Indian Tribes.” 

California seems to think they can stop free trade between states.  They require that cages for laying hens are banned.  Also, by year 2020, calves raised for veal must have 43 square feet of space and breeding sows must have 24 square feet.  That shuts the door on farmers in other states that want to sell eggs or meat in California.  Where is the free trade?  Here we are trying to negotiate free trade agreements with other countries, and we don’t even have free trade between states.

And California – don’t be telling us that you are just imposing reasonable health and welfare standards.  What do you know?  Researchers at Michigan State, Iowa State, and USDA found that hens were twice as likely to die with your space.  You should not be allowed to impose your elite food standards on all food sold in your state.  Let the consumer decide.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Busy Week

November 15, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country.  This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.  They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America.  Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -  

Last week was really busy.  Three days at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters Convention in Kansas City.  If you listen to farm radio, your broadcaster was probably there.  I’ve been going for almost 40 years. 

After Kansas City, I went to our farm.  Harvest is all in the bin.  After a whole year of work, and thousands of dollars spent, watching that golden corn streaming in is so exciting.

The day harvest is done, we have to go to work on next year’s crop.  Be assured we have soil tests on our fields.  The tests will tell us how much phosphate or potash must be applied.  Does the field need lime?  We all know that we have to eat the right food to be healthy.  It is the same with crops.  Feed the crop the right diet to make it produce a big yield.  It is the same with our pigs.  If you are going to “bring home the bacon,” feed them right.

Most of the people in our county live in the city – so far removed from the farm.  We need better communication back and forth.  We’re seeing that division in politics today.

Besides the corn and soybeans that we raise, we have baby pigs born every day.  It’s cold out in Illinois.  As for the mother sows, when they get close to the farrowing they must be brought into the barn which is heated.  We want the mothers to be comfortable and their babies safe.  We have all of these farm experts that think they know everything.  The animal rights organizations are telling us how to care for our animals – pigs, cows, chickens, everything.  What do they know?  Not much.  Farmers and ranchers have a powerful incentive to provide the best of care.  Animals that are not healthy and happy will not gain weight and thrive as they should.  Bad farmers lose money.  We need to make money to stay in business.  It’s as simple as that.

I wanted to say a little bit about the scorching fires burning down more than 200,000 acres in California and killing more than 40 people.  We don’t know how many more will be found burned to death.  We wouldn’t have to accept such devastation if we had better forest management.  We need to manage our forests better.  Over the years, especially in California, environmental groups have pushed through all kinds of restrictive laws.

Trees die from drought.  They are not removed.  They dry and are ideal for firewood.  We could thin the forests if lumber companies were allowed to harvest the lumber.  But NO – that might be bad for endangered species.

Hopefully, these deadly fires will revive some common sense forest management.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Mid-Term and More

November 8, 2018

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And now for today’s commentary -  

Yes, I have something to say about the mid-term elections, and I will get to that in a minute.  But first, we have been worried about the trade disputes with China and how their tariffs have cost us.  Finally, President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are going to sit down to dinner in Buenos Aires and try to end the tariff war.  Our President had this to say:  “I spoke to President Xi yesterday; they very much want to make a deal, a very fair deal for everybody, but it will be a good deal for the U.S.”  Okay, that sounds good, but if there is no deal, President Trump threatens more tariffs.  The tariff war has been very costly to China as well as to our farmers.

I will be on the Illinois farm this weekend.  Harvest is wrapped up.  Record corn and soybean yields.  Our hogs are happy and healthy.  There is concern about disease getting to the U.S. from other countries – African swine fever in China, swine fever in Japan, foot and mouth disease in China and South Korea.  We need to be on high alert.  I am at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters this week.  NAFB is one convention that I never miss.  If you want to get a broad flavor for what rural America thinks, go to the NAFB.

We have heard a lot about how the U.S. economy is booming – job creation, unemployment down, wages up – especially for those low paid individuals.  Their income has jumped more than 5%.  Were you also aware – favorable grocery prices?  They actually declined in 2016 and 2017 and they are expected to rise less than 1% this year.  We still need a boost in farm income.  Maybe next year.

Turning to the mid-term election – I had expected Republicans could hold their lead in the House.  Wrong.  Democrats will rule the House for the next 2 years.  But Republicans won more seats in the Senate than I expected.

What does this mean?  Either we don’t get anything done next year – gridlock – or Republicans and Democrats could come together and pass some bipartisan legislation.  Keep in mind the newly elected individuals are not seated until next year.  The old Congress will be back this December and we hope they will pass a farm bill.  Republicans have lost some leverage, and the new bill will not have much language on work requirements for food stamp recipients.  Fine – just get it done.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, this is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Election and Hate Crimes

November 1, 2018

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And now for today’s commentary -  

There has been a lot going on in the last week.  I will focus on some of those topics.

One of the saddest happenings would be the deadly attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by a lone anti-Semitic gunman.  Eleven were killed just because they were Jewish.  It is nothing new.  Jewish people have been persecuted going back to ancient Rome.  But it shouldn’t happen here in the U.S. today.

On top of the above, we had the angry idiot that mailed out bombs to Democrat leaders that he hated.  However, just because he loves President Trump, you can’t blame the President for such a disgraceful act.  With the mid-term election coming up next week, Democrats want to blame everything bad on Trump.  Even though the President has Jewish members in his immediate family, and in support of Israel, he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. None of his predecessors had the guts to do that.

Something to be happy about – President Trump was a speaker at the annual Future Farmers of America Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.  No U.S. President has spoken at their convention since President H. W. Bush.  I was honored to speak to them last year.

Two years ago, we elected Donald Trump as our President.  He is different.  He has been responsible for some major actions that have made some of us happy and others angry.  I’m talking about deregulation, opening up oil drilling, oil pipelines, tax cuts, demanded our allies pay their fair share for defense, met with Kim Jong Un of North Korea – on and on.

Consumer confidence just hit an 18-year high.  The question now is whether the Trump economy and Trump Presidential actions can help carry Republicans across the election finish line.  The President’s party almost always loses a large number of seats in the mid-terms.  Just look back to Obama (2010 and 2014), Reagan (1952), Clinton (1994), and Bush (2006) – all big losses.

Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take control of the House.  In the Senate, with Republicans holding a slim 51 to 49 lead, Democrats would only need to add 2 seats to take control.  Here is what I predict:  Republicans will actually gain seats in the Senate.  They will lose seats in the House, but will hold on to a very slim majority.

I’ll be at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters this week and then to the farm.

  If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to www.johnblockreports.com

This is John Block reporting from Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Debt

October 25, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Some good news – President Trump will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires in November. Can they jump start a process to resolve our trade war? We hope.

The European Union has agreed to give the U.S. a larger share of their beef market. We like that. The Senate passed water policy legislation.

We have been trying to get the Congress to authorize money to be spent on our waterway system for years. Maybe now we can do something to update and repair our crumbling locks and dams. 60% of our grain exports go down the river.

Today, I want to spend some time on a subject that we should all be concerned about. That subject is debt. During President Obama’s years with a nationwide recession, our federal debt doubled to nearly $20 trillion. With our booming economy now, it is not getting any better.

Our fiscal year just ended and our government debt jumped $779 billion. The 2017 year’s debt increase was $665 billion. With tax reform and tax cuts now in place, our economy keeps growing. But the modest increase in tax income is not keeping pace with the annual increase in spending. All the welfare programs – Social Security, Medicare, etc. – are on automatic pilot. Our population is getting older and qualifying for more federal money. Defense spending is up. Also, with our debt rising and interest rates increasing, that will cost more money.

If you are a farmer or any individual, when spending exceeds income, you know you are in trouble. That’s where our nation is today. We are not alone. Countries all over the world just can’t help themselves. We have states and cities in the U.S. that keep piling up debt. Why do governments keep doing this? The answer is simple. Citizens don’t want to see anything taken aware from them. They want the government to give them more. Elected officials are going to give the voters what they want. That’s how they buy votes.

There are things we could do to help control our growing debt burden, but with the midterm election coming up, no one wants to talk about it.

After the election, we should focus on balancing the budget. That cannot happen without a bipartisan approach. President Trump suggested cutting spending 5% across the board. We shall see.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com.

This week, I am on my farm in Illinois.

John Block Reports from Washington

Issues and Opportunities

October 18, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

When President Trump announced a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, he said: “It is a very big deal for farmers. The new NAFTA, which is USMCA, has a very good ring. The ag industry across the country applauds the deal.” 

The deal is not done yet. Congress must approve. There would be a lot of disappointment if we could not get that done. The U.S. Trade Office says the agreement will provide new access for U.S. products, including fluid milk, cream, butter, cheese, and other dairy products; also, chickens and eggs. All tariffs on Ag products between the U.S. and Canada will be set at Zero. American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall called USMCA “a clear victory for our farmers.”

Another victory for U.S. farmers last week was President Trump’s announcement to allow 15% ethanol in our fuel the year-round. Pull into the gas station now and all the pumps say 10% ethanol. It’s easy to imagine the increase in sales if those pumps said 15% ethanol.

Today, 20 states don’t have any gas stations that sell E-15. However, if they could sell it year-round, there might be a lot more gas pumps with 15% ethanol. After all, it would be cheaper than 10% ethanol fuel.

President Trump wants to move fast so we can make E-15 available next summer. It is no surprise but big oil and environmental groups are already planning their legal challenges. The oil industry certainly would not want to see corn ethanol stealing another 5% of their gasoline market.

Here is another corn issue I just read about this week. In Mexico, there is a giant corn that grows 16 feet tall and is able to fix nitrogen. We spend a fortune on nitrogen to feed our corn crop. Our corn will not pull in nitrogen from the air so we have to buy it. Soybeans are able to fix nitrogen, which means we don’t have to apply nitrogen to our soybean fields.

Needless to say, it will take a long time to breed and develop this Mexican corn to compete with the hybrids we plant today. But if we could develop a corn that would provide its own nitrogen, that would be worth spending time and money.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com.

Until next week, I am John Block in down on the farm.

John Block Reports from Washington

Gopher Frog

October 11, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

I want to talk about a frog today, but before the frog hops up on the table – just a few words on the subject of trade. The U.S. trade deficit rose in August to $53.2 billion. That’s up $3.2 billion. A decline in soybean and oil exports is what pulled us down. China is not buying our beans – at least, not now. Their companies don’t want to pay the 25% tariff imposed by China on our beans.

There is some good news. USA Rice Chairman Charley Mathews, Jr. is cheering a big purchase – 90,000 metric tons of rice by Iraq. That is triple what they had been buying. The National Pork Producers Council is praising President Trump for announcing that the U.S. and Japan are to begin trade talks. National Pork Producers Council President Jim Heimer said: “Fantastic news. Japan has been our top export market for years.”

Also, beef exports are expected to increase to South Korea. The duty has just been reduced to 21.3% from 40% and will be eliminated by 2026. Cattlemen are excited to see the U.S. as the largest supplier of beef to South Korea.

We need to make free trade deals with South Korea, Japan, and other Asian countries because we are not part of the Trans Pacific agreement. President Trump withdrew.

I said I wanted to talk about a frog. Here we go. Assume that you own a farm and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came and said they would take it away from you, even though you own it. It would be off limits to you. The dusky gopher frog doesn’t live on your land but the government decided it would be a perfect home for that useless frog. He is an endangered species but to kick a farmer off of 1,500 acres of his land for a useless frog is outrageous.

It has been more than 50 years since the gopher frog was on any Louisiana land. Gopher frogs live in Mississippi now. The Louisiana land owner has been fighting a legal battle with the government to save his farm for years.

Can the federal government designate private land as a critical habitat for an endangered species even when the animal isn’t living on that land? Well, the Supreme Court just heard the case. There seems to be a split on what to do. Maybe our new Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh will support a farmer’s private property rights. We hope.

Last point – it’s big news. President Trump just announced that E15 ethanol can be sold year round. More on this subject next week.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block in down on the farm.

John Block Reports from Washington

NAFTA and More

October 4, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Issue number 1 – China is very unhappy that President Trump has imposed heavy tariffs on Chinese exports. Tensions have escalated. When I was in China with the Farm Broadcasters in June, we had a long meeting with our U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad. He was challenging the Chinese unfair trade practices, but was reserved.

Not now – he is very vocal in openly criticizing China because on September 23, China Daily bought an ad in the Des Moines Register, an Iowa newspaper, criticizing U.S. actions on trade. I know we have “free speech” and “free press” but this is too much. The trade war goes on.

So that you are not worried: the federal government will not shut down. Most of the money to keep the doors open has been appropriated for the coming year. There will be a little work to do in December.

I wish I could say the same about the farm bill. The 2014 farm bill has officially expired. Now, can we get a new bill by the end of the year? There are several hurdles blocking the passage of a new bill, but the biggest is the House insisting on work requirements for ablebodied food stamp recipients. The Senate says “no way.”

The biggest event of the week was Canada coming aboard with the U.S. and Mexico on a new NAFTA – now to be called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and the Canadian Foreign Affairs Rep had this to say: “USMCA will give our workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses a high-standard trade agreement that will result in freer markets, fairer trade, and robust economic growth in our region.”

Canada and Mexico are two of our biggest trading partners. Sealing the deal is not only good for North America; it sends a strong sign to other countries where we have trade disputes.

I’m sure China is watching. If they keep watching, they are going to see new agreements with Japan and the European Union. As Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “The dominoes will begin to fall.”

The USMCA is a win for our dairy industry and the wheat industry. Wheat sold to Canada will now be graded the same as Canadian wheat. Harmonizing food safety standards across all three countries is progress.

Maybe Brett Kavanaugh will get approved. I hope so.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block in down on the farm.

John Block Reports from Washington

Bob Lighthizer

September 27, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Will President Trump’s nominee for Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh be approved? We may know by the time you hear this radio commentary. I think he will. It would be a sad outcome if he is rejected.

On another subject, recent meetings between Presidents of North Korea and South Korea and a future meeting scheduled with President Trump and Kim Jong-un are reasons for hope. A denuclearized Korean peninsula is the objective. We should not give up.

Can’t ignore trade – trade disputes have countries all over the world up in arms. Donald Trump is the driver of all this disruption. His front man in the driver’s seat is U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. On the plus side, a re-written U.S.-South Korean Free Trade Agreement was signed by President Trump and South Korean President Moon this week.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “I am optimistic that the dominoes will continue to fall – KORUS, then a new NAFTA, and new agreements with the European Union, Japan, and then China.” I would add that I am optimistic and – the sooner the better.

One reason I am optimistic is that I have a bit of confidence in our U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer. I worked with him in the Reagan Administration. He served as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and led talks with Japan. We pushed Japan to open their market for our fruits – especially oranges. Lighthizer was there when we lifted the Soviet grain embargo in 1981. After it was lifted, we wrote a long-term grain agreement with the Soviet Union. In 1983, I went to Moscow with our Ag Team to sign that Agreement with the Soviet Trade Ambassador.

Lighthizer worked for Senator Bob Dole in the late 1970s as Chief of Staff on the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. Nearly forty years later, Senator Dole introduced Lighthizer at his confirmation hearing.

Bill Brock, who served as President Reagan’s U.S. Trade Representative, says, “Bob Lighthizer is enormously talented.”

I don’t want to minimize the pain the ag industry and farmers are suffering now. But I wanted you to know more about the man in charge of our negotiations. We are all aware that China has been manipulating trade and stealing technology. If the unfair trade practices can be fixed, Bob Lighthizer is the man.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block in down on the farm.

John Block Reports from Washington

This and That

September 20, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Vladimir Putin of Russia wants to raise the age for his citizens to receive retirement benefits. That is what we should do to reform our Social Security retirement program. Russian citizens have been protesting. Nearly 300 people have been arrested. They marched toward Red Square and the Kremlin. Our Congress is afraid to even talk about the subject, even though it is a fact that our life expectancy is so much larger than it used to be. 

President Putin wants to raise the age to qualify for benefits for men from 60 years to 65 years. The opposition is so strong that he may be forced to back off of that plan.

Turn to China – their pork prices are spiking. They are experiencing an outbreak of African swine fever. China has 700 million pigs – half the world’s population of pigs. They want to contain the outbreak. Of course, they could just buy more pork from us. It’s more costly with our tariffs in place. African swine fever is not easily eradicated. No vaccines or effective treatments are available. Humans are not at risk, but the virus is deadly to pigs. The disease has spread to four provinces. It will not be easy to contain the epidemic. They might have to buy our pork.

I want to put the subject of immigration on the table. Our agriculture industry is having a difficult time finding the labor to do a lot of farm chores. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte has legislation to overhaul the H-2A guest worker program. It is called H-2C. His bill has a lot of critics because it requires our employers to verify the workers’ legal status. I don’t think it is going anywhere now. We need a comprehensive immigration reform bill, and there just isn’t any interest in compromise.

And when we do some day decide to deal with immigration – yes, seal the border. But what about the thousands who have come here on legal visas? Homeland Security reports that 700,000 failed to depart as scheduled. Seven months later, 421,000 were still here. 

About 200,000 never leave. That is about how many sneak in over the border. It is time we stopped ignoring visa overstays.

I’m on the farm this week. Harvest time.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com.

Until next week, I am John Block in down on the farm.

John Block Reports from Washington

Agriculture’s Message

September 13, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

I wasn’t going to go down this road, but a CNN discussion and article that I have in front of me should not be ignored. Here is their criticism – they used internal e-mails from USDA that show “big food lobbyists are working hand-in-glove with agency staffers.” Now, they do admit that no one is committing any legal violation. But they seem to have a real problem with USDA listening to former employees and food industry leaders.

The e-mails show where the National Grocers Association sent USDA some talking points for Secretary Perdue to use when he speaks to the National Grocers Association. Terrible! Secretary Perdue even used some of the talking points verbatim that were sent to him. USDA Communications Director Tim Murtaugh said, “It is a common practice among speechwriters to gather information from the organizers of events.”

I have given a lot of speeches in my day. I always want to know what issues the audience would want me to talk about. When I served as Secretary of Agriculture, it was very necessary to know where they stood. That doesn’t mean that you would endorse all of their points. If you don’t support their position, explain why. Maybe there is a chance to find middle ground. If I was scheduled to speak to the Illinois Farm Bureau, maybe I would talk to the President of the IFB before preparing my remarks.

The CNN article had this to say: “The federal government should be creating the talking points for a Cabinet head, not a trade association. Government agencies are continuing to pursue the special interest agenda. This is a profound betrayal of Trump’s drain-the-swamp promise.”

The President has been very successful in draining the EPA swamp of regulations. However, we want his Secretary of Agriculture to listen to the farmers and ranchers – listen to the food processors and exporters.

I think we should appreciate the value that lobbyists provide. Farmers and ranchers want to get their advice to the President and Secretary of Agriculture. They want to be heard. Most of them don’t have the connections or time to try to get their message out. That’s why the U.S. corn growers, pork producers, cattlemen, CropLife, and others have lobbyists to ensure that their policy position is understood.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Uncertainty

September 5, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

The agriculture industry in the U.S. is dealing with a lot of uncertainty. Falling prices and trade wars top the list. We expect our exports to grow faster than our imports. However, for 3 years in a row, that has not been happening. We are losing ground. 

Looking to 2019, pork exports are expected to decline by $300 million and beef by $100 million.

A little bit of good news – poultry will be up slightly, and also wheat. Net farm income is forecast to drop $9.8 billion. Pulling everything down more than anything else – you guessed – soybean exports, which are expected to drop $800 million.

Yes – the trade war has been very disruptive for our industry. But part of the price decline problem is self-inflicted. We are expecting a record crop of corn and soybeans. Our feed lot supplies of beef have jumped up almost 8%. Hog numbers are up 3.4%. Who is going to consume all of this food if we can’t expand exports?

The U.S. and Canada are meeting this week to see if we can get a breakthrough in NAFTA trade negotiations. We did get an agreement with Mexico. Canada is another story. U.S. farm organizations are desperate to keep Canada in the NAFTA agreement. The Canadian dairy supply management program is a big obstacle.

Turn to Europe and we are seeing some positive signs. They are starting to buy a record amount of soybeans. Just this week, they say they want more beef. And now they want to have a free market between the U.S. and the EU on automobiles. I don’t think we expected that.

Turn back to China – they have been our number one foreign market for farm products. However, our farm exports to China this year will be down by as much as 20%. The tit-for-tat, back-and-forth tariffs have messed up trading relationships around the world.

Just to make it clear – we had to take a tough stand on trade. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said: “Farmers understand why President Trump has thrown the flag on China. They’ve been cheating for a number of years since they joined the WTO.”

O.K. I agree, but I hope the pain will force an early resolution.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com.

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Labor Day 2018

September 1, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

It’s hard to believe, but summer is all but gone. We are looking at harvest season. Get that combine ready to go. Labor Day is next Monday. 

Speaking of Labor Day, I want to say how much respect I have for the hard-working men and women that labor in the trenches. I’m not talking about big corporation managers, not talking about political big wigs or university professors. I want to honor the carpenter, the plumber, the factory worker, the farmer growing the food, the rancher caring for the cattle, the workers in the processing plants. I don’t think they get the appreciation that they deserve.

There is some good news. With the shortage of labor today, companies are starting to raise wages – not enough but some. Many young people that were unemployed have now found jobs. Unemployment is at 3.8%. Unemployment for Blacks and Hispanics at is the lowest point ever.

Businesses big and small have started training high school graduates and some that didn’t graduate – training not just carpenters or welders but in technology, manufacturing, etc. Many companies have relaxed their standards for hiring. You may not have to have a college education.

Individuals who have a criminal record – if it is for a minor offense – may be hired. Opportunity has finally arrived for many who didn’t have a chance before. Perhaps they were too poor to go to college – that costs a fortune. Now, they can learn a trade and become a tax-paying citizen.

Have a great Labor Day!

Other issues – it looks like we have a trade deal with Mexico. Details are not all ironed out, but I have a good feeling about this. Now, Canada is coming to the table to see if NAFTA can be saved. Let’s hope they can get it done.

Senator Pat Roberts tells us that “they have made real progress” in the conference negotiations on the farm bill. However, work requirements for able-bodied food stamp recipients are still a sticking point. There is optimism that it can be completed and passed by the end of the fiscal year – September.

I mentioned that harvest season is here. Be careful. Don’t take any chances. Farming is a dangerous business.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com.

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Wild Fires

August 23, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Wild fires in California and other Western states have burned more than 1,000 square miles of timberland and grassland. 14 people have died and thousands of homes have been turned to ashes. 14,000 firefighters are risking their lives. Drought and strong winds could continue until the end of the year. Last year, the State of California spent $773 million on fire control. Federal agencies spent $2.9 billion last year.

Isn’t there something that could be done to reduce the destruction? On one side, we have the environmentalists that want to blame climate changes. They can’t bring themselves to accept the obvious fact that the forests are filled with beetle-infested dry, dead wood. And that is the perfect mix if you want a big fire. We need to manage our forests by cleaning out the dead wood and cutting more live trees. There is a market for lumber.

Liberals don’t want to do anything to manage our forests. Cutting trees and clearing dead wood is not natural. Don’t mess with nature. My view is that forest land is a resource and it should be used and managed. If we did that, we wouldn’t have fires as destructive as we have today. I don’t blame it all on climate change. We have always had natural disasters – hurricanes, droughts, floods, excessive heat and cold. The Southwest and Midwest suffered through record heat and drought in the 1930s. Our farms were devastated. We had climate change then.

Controlled burning of the dead, dry ground cover could help. Environmentalists don’t want to do that because that burning is bad for the air quality. But the fires burning in the West this year are not good for the environment either. One way liberals have blocked controlled burning has been to use environmental regulations protecting endangered species.

The timber industry, environmentalists, and government officials need to get together and take some positive steps to limit the destruction. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke both support active forest management.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Down on the Farm 2018

August 16, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

I am talking to you on the phone from our farm in Illinois. Our corn and soybeans are beautiful. I picked some ears. Most ears are 18 rows round – some are 16 rows. That is a good sign. Our early corn is starting to dent. I think the corn crop is made. A rain would not help the corn vey much but it sure would be good for the soybeans. The ground is dry. Soybeans could use some moisture to help fill the bean pods. Is this crop better than last year? I think so. 

The fact is – there are lots of good crops across the Midwest. The USDA is telling us that. We are cleaning out our grain bins and getting ready for the new crop. Farmers around here predict an early start at harvest. The hot weather has pushed the crop to dry. Today, we shipped a trailer load of market hogs. They will weigh at least 280 pounds each. They grow to 280 pounds in less than 6 months. I have raised pigs all my life and have never seen the herd health as perfect as ours is today. It is exciting to see the corn, soybeans, and hogs doing so well.

Our markets are another story. We can’t predict with any certainty what prices will look like through harvest and into next year. Most farmers have sold their old crop, but the new crop is of concern now. We have two things that weigh heavy on our prices – record size crop and trade war worries. One positive development is that wheat reserves are down. Russia and Ukraine had a bad crop. Keep in mind that Russia is the number one wheat exporter in the world. The European wheat crop wasn’t very good either. That should help to lift corn prices some.

The trade war talk has pushed prices down also. There is hope that we could reach a deal with Mexico – maybe Canada. That would fix NAFTA and then negotiate a deal with Europe. We need momentum toward resolution. That could give President Trump some leverage in Chinese talks. Unfortunately, I don’t expect a deal with China very soon. The reason is this – Trump is serious in pressing Chinese trade reforms and China is stubborn. I think our farm products will be in demand around the world. Somebody will want my corn, soybeans, and pork. It just might be somebody different this year. The trade dispute is shaking up trading relations. In the end, that might be a good thing, but for now – we worry. 

I went to the Illinois State Fair yesterday. Looking at all of the cattle and hogs reminded me of years ago when I showed my 4-H pigs at the fair.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com.

Until next week, I am John Block -- down on the farm.

John Block Reports from Washington

This and That 2018

August 9, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Good news – ethanol exports are up 33% so far this year. By year’s end, we should exceed last year’s record of 1.38 billion gallons.

Turn to hogs – we have raised hogs on my farm all my life. I know that a hog barn doesn’t smell like flowers blooming. However, hog farms and other livestock and poultry farms have faced a growing number of lawsuits in recent years. Smithfield Foods just got hammered with a lawsuit verdict awarding $473.5 million to 6 North Carolina residents. They don’t like the smell of hogs. The divide between urban and rural America just gets wider. The farm community will not be as upset with a big corporation like Smithfield having to pay so much, but if it were a family farm, they would be broke. I must admit from my hog farmer point of view that when hog prices are low, their odor is not appealing, but when prices are high, they don’t smell bad at all.

Let’s turn to the Food and Drug Administration. FDA Commissioner Gottlieb reminds us that “milk” is a product of lactating animals. Almond “milk,” soy “milk,” coconut “milk,” etc. should not use the word “milk.” We will see where this goes.

Last week, I talked about lab-grown “meat.” Will they call it meat? Our Secretary of Agriculture and the FDA Commissioner are both competing to be in charge of regulating the new lab foods that will be entering the food chain. We don’t know how this will play out.

Last on my list this week but certainly not least is trade. With a big crop in the U.S., and burdensome supplies of meat, we need markets. The meat glut has hammered a 10% decline in beef and pork prices. Chicken has been hit also. Trade war concerns multiply the anxiety. Grain farmers also worry about the expanded trade war.

There is some good news. Wheat prices are the highest since 2014. With droughts in other parts of the world, global feed grain inventories are falling. Pro Farmer reports: “Record export sales since April, and new crop sales are up 62% from a year ago. Non-Chinese demand has made up for the absence of China.”

O.K. I have my fingers crossed.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com

I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Farm Bill

August 2, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

The current Farm Bill runs out at the end of September. Will we get a new one? If so, when? Thanks to the efforts of Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow, they have negotiated a bill. With the leadership of Congressman Mike Conaway, the House has completed their bill. Now comes the hard part. The two bills must be conferenced. They aren’t the same.

The biggest difference is not farm program supports. It has to do with who gets food stamps. The House bill imposes work requirements on able-bodied recipients. If not work, they must receive job training. Conaway said the goal is to help “millions of low-income Americans climb the economic ladder.”

That will be the stumbling block. I don’t think the Senate will accept very much in the way of work requirements. Senate Democrats will oppose. 

I know the Republican leadership wants to get a bill passed by the end of September before the mid-term election. I hope they do, but I’m not optimistic. Maybe by the end of the year. Farm bills are always difficult to get through Congress.

Another big concern in farm country is the challenge in finding enough workers. At current trends, the Labor Dept. is expected to issue 242,000 A-2A visas this year. That is up from last year’s 200,000. The hopeful news is the House is preparing to debate a new bill to replace the H-2A program authorizing 450,000 workers under an H-2C program good for 3 years. The cosponsors of the bill are Ag Committee Chair Mike Conaway and Democrat Collin Peterson. American Farm Bureau supports the bill, but everyone is not happy. The bill requires that all employees use the E-Verify system to make sure they are legal. Also, the workers must have health insurance.

As desperate as the need is for workers, passage will not be easy. Stay tuned…

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com.

Until next week, I am John Block.

John Block Reports from Washington

This and That July 2018

July 27, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

I’m going to focus on some different issues today. Trade is in the spotlight. We can only encourage the U.S. and the countries that we have challenged – Canada, Mexico, EU, and China – to sit down and negotiate a compromise. We need a better deal.

On the uproar over Russian interference in our 2016 election – I agree Russia should not have done that, but let’s be clear – it’s not anything new. Back in 1996, President Boris Yeltsin ran for re-election in the Soviet Union – U.S. and our European allies did everything we could to change the outcome. As recently as 2015, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry paid hundreds of thousands of our taxpayer dollars to try to defeat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  In December 2016 on National Public Radio, Carnegie Mellon University researcher Dov Levin said: “U.S. has meddled in the elections of other nations more than 80 times between 1946 and 2000.” As I said – not new and you haven’t seen the last of it. 

Beef, chicken, and pork producers have a new challenge that they need to worry about. The subject is cell-cultured meat. We have companies that are starting to produce a “lab developed imitation of a hamburger.” Cell-cultured meat is not on the market yet, but the emerging technology has drawn investment from major meat processors such as Tyson Foods and Cargill.

The Washington Post describes the process this way: “Cells of meat are fed oxygen and nutrients like sugar and minerals and can grow into skeletal muscle that can be harvested within a few weeks.” Then you have meatballs. However, we don’t want them to call it meat. That is misleading. It could be just another challenge to cattle, pig, and chicken farmers. I wonder if the critics of genetically engineered food products will support this. It doesn’t seem natural to me.

Big news this week for agriculture – President Trump is offering $12 billion of support to help farmers hit hard by the trade war conflict. Secretary Perdue calls it a “short-term solution to give the Administration time to work on long-term trade deals.”

That’s it until next week.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com.

I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Trump-Putin Summit

July 18, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

President Trump has dominated all the press headlines in recent days. He met with NATO leaders and criticized them for not doing their share to pay for European defense. He is right, and they are already beginning to respond with billions of dollars more. President Trump has asked the Pentagon to consider bringing home our troops in Germany. We have 35,000 troops stationed in Germany. The European Union has a GDP greater than ours. They should accept the first line of defense of Europe.

This week, the President met with Russian President Putin in Helsinki, Finland. All the news was critical: “Don’t meet with Putin. He’s a bad guy. He interfered in the 2016 election. Can’t be trusted.”

Well, President Trump went right ahead. After 4 hours of private discussion with President Putin, they had a joint 46-minute news conference. President Trump’s review of the summit shocked the news media. Our President, to the dismay of the U.S. intelligence agencies, said that he did not believe that Russia had interfered in our 2016 Presidential election.

However, after a loud blast of criticism, he has backed away from that position. Let’s be honest. Senator Rand Paul is right – disruption and hacking. “We all do it.”

Like it or not, it is clear that President Trump’s disruptive diplomacy is different. He didn’t have much political support to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, the “Little Rocket Man,” but he did anyway.

Aside from all the noise about the Russian summit, I think it will prove to be valuable and worthwhile. We don’t have all the details of what was talked about or if anything was specifically decided. But the two largest nuclear powers in the world need to be talking. Maybe something can be resolved.

Will Russia help push Iranian forces out of Syria? Syrian President Assad remains in power in Syria – fine. We are not going to rebuild that country. Let Russia rebuild it. We have a strategic weapons treaty with Russia due to expire in 2021. Get it extended. Pressure Russia to back out of Eastern Ukraine. For our national security, I think it is vitally important to have a working relationship with Russia. And, I think it is good that relationship starts from the top down. That’s where decisions are made.

The farm bill should go to conference this week. Stay tuned.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Trump Trumps NATO

July 11, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Before I focus on this week’s subject, I just want to say a few words about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scott Pruitt led the EPA as President Trump’s “deregulator in chief.” He aggressively worked to get rid of the regulatory burden that was weighing on our economy and small businesses. I thank him for that. 

However, he buried himself in scandal and is now gone. As a corn farmer and supporter of ethanol, he won’t be missed. While being wedded to Big Oil, he was no help to the ethanol community.

Let’s focus on President Trump’s meeting this week with our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies. At a recent rally in Montana, President Trump had this to say: “I’m going to tell NATO, you have to start paying your bills.” He told German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “Angela, you owe me one trillion dollars.”

Here is what that is all about. For 14 years, Germany, along with most of the other European countries covered and protected by NATO, have failed to pay what they had promised as their share – 2% of their GDP to finance NATO defenses. Germany is a rich country, but is paying only 1.24% of their GDP. The U.S. is paying 3.57% of our GDP. In 2014, only 3 NATO countries reached the 2% target – U.S., United Kingdom, and Greece. President Trump is right.

It’s time the others step up to the plate. They have started. This year, the nations paying 2% of their GDP is expected to rise to 8. Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg wrote this in the Wall Street Journal: “President Trump has been outspoken on this issue, and I thank him for his leadership. The upswing in NATO defense spending demonstrates that his efforts are making a difference. The NATO alliance of 29 countries represents half the world’s economic and military might.”

Here is what I have to say: The U.S. has the most powerful military in the world, but we should not be expected to do everything.

Finally, trade will also be on the agenda in London. Maybe we can make some progress there. We hope.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online

to www.johnblockreports.com.

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Back From China

July 7, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Here are some of my observations after two weeks in China, leading a delegation of 30 farm broadcasters and farm leaders. It is not the China that I visited 40 years ago. That was 1978 and as the Illinois state Director of Agriculture, I led a team of Illinois farm leaders to China. Our objective was to build a trade relationship with that country.

In that day, the Chinese streets were full of bicycles; not very many cars. Today, their cities are busy – filled with cars and trucks. Traffic is everywhere. And the cars are new. Not old like in Cuba. Their farms are not what they were. They are bigger with modern machinery. We toured a big fish farm, a huge chicken and egg laying business – millions of eggs! China owns Syngenta – the largest supplier of seed, chemicals, and fertilizer in the world. They are spending millions on GMOs and new crop technology.

Perhaps the most impressive contrast to 40 years ago is in the cities. They are huge. People from the country have come to town. Skyscrapers, apartment buildings, millions of people everywhere. 60% of their people now live in the cities. They are hard-working, dedicated, and prosperous. Incomes could average $30,000. Young people everywhere – they aren’t hungry and they aren’t overweight either.

Their stores are just as modern as ours. We were in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and 3 other large cities with populations ranging from 10 million to 25 million. In one city block, I saw KFC, Starbucks, CVS, McDonald’s, 7-11, and Pizza Hut. I thought I was home. With a population of 1.3 billion people, China is no third world country today.

China has concerns about escalation of our trade war, as we do. It should be no surprise the “China Daily” newspaper blames President Trump. However, in meeting with U.S. Ambassador Branstadt and other U.S. Department of Agriculture reps, they made it clear that pressure needs to be exerted to force China to honor commitments made under the World Trade Organization.

President Xi Jinping said, “China is willing to work with global trading partners to make economic globalization more inclusive and balanced.” I still hold out hope that President Trump and President Xi Jinping can find common ground.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block just back from China.

John Block Reports from Washington

Keep Food Programs at the USDA

June 28, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This is Rick Frank sitting in for John Block. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

The Trump Administration reportedly plans to move up to $110 billion of USDA food assistance programs to a new “welfare” agency attached to HHS. While advocates of seriously reducing the cost of our welfare and nutrition programs (such as the Heritage Foundation) might find this idea appealing, it is truly very bad for American agriculture.

Food programs have long represented a partnership between feeding the poor and supporting agriculture. Section 32 programs, for example, enable USDA to purchase food items which are in temporary surplus – for example meat and vegetables – and donate these nutritious foods to national and state food assistance programs. In 2016 USDA purchased 11 million pounds of cheese which was provided to food banks and pantries across the US. This helped tackle the highest surplus of cheese in 30 years and provide for those in need.

Since 1946, it has been bi-partisan Congressional policy…as a measure of national security to safeguard the health and well-being of the nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities by assisting the states through supporting the non-profit school lunch and breakfast programs. What happens to this laudable goal if these programs are moved to HHS?

On his first day in office, Secretary Perdue wrote to USDA employees: “Do right and feed everyone so that we enhance the American public’s confidence in the important work of the Department of Agriculture.” This can’t happen if the food programs go to HHS. The largest nutrition program being considered for transfer is the SNAP or Food Stamp program. If that is moved, what will happen to school lunch, school breakfast, and WIC…alltargets for serious budget reductions?

Stripped of a large percentage of its budget, will USDA still merit being a Cabinet-level Department? What will that say about American agriculture? Will the urban-rural coalition on Capitol Hill forged by support for feeding programs and agriculture break down and jeopardize enactment of the next Farm Bill? In the last Farm Bill process we saw a letter from 530 organizations, both farm and nutrition groups, opposing the House decision to remove Food Stamps from the Farm Bill. The Senate thankfully dropped this provision. What happens to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees stripped of much of their authority?

While history suggests this idea will not proceed without serious opposition, particularly since it requires Congressional approval, it is truly a bad idea for America’s agriculture. It is always legitimate to review our budget; but reductions should not be accomplished through sleight of hand in moving these programs to HHS thereby denigrating the importance of American agriculture. As Secretary Perdue continues to say, “do right and feed everyone.”

Until next week, I am Rick Frank sitting in for John Block in Washington, D.C.=

John Block Reports from Washington

Trade and China

June 21, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

I am headed to China this week with 30 farm broadcasters and farm and ranch leaders. We will talk to Ambassador Terry Branstad and other U.S. representatives in our Embassy and spend time with Chinese government leaders. Given the level of trade war attacks that are in place, we will be right in the middle of a very dangerous dispute.

Keep in mind how important China is to our ag economy. They are our number two export market, spending $20 billion on our products. That is 14% of what we sell. Our sales to China have been coming down from a very high level of $26 billion in 2012. One reason for the decline – our prices have been falling.

Last Friday, President Trump announced he planned to hit China with $50 billion of tariffs on high tech goods. On Monday, he just announced another $200 billion in tariffs. China says they will retaliate with tariffs on our ag goods to become effective on July 6. China has been a huge market for our soybeans and Distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGs). A 25% tax on our soybeans will really hurt.

There is not very much time left before all of these tariffs will be imposed. The worry in the country is “off the charts.” As the trade dispute noise has grown louder, the grain markets have tanked. Meat markets have paid a price also. U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Steve Censky said to AgriPulse: “We’re hoping that China will come to the table and engage.”

Well, our ag team will be in China at this very dangerous and historic time. Stay tuned. With all the China storm, we don’t need another trade war, but we have one. Our dispute with Canada and Mexico over the North American Free Trade Agreement is far from settled.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said: “I think U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer believes that we could get a bilateral deal done more quickly with Mexico, and then with Canada, and possibly come back together with all three nations, and hopefully we can get that done sooner rather than later.”

That sounds like wishful thinking to me. Canada’s dairy supply management program is a huge distortion to our own dairy industry.

Maybe our farm team can fix everything while in China – then we can go to Canada. You know, I’m kidding.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Next week, Rick Frank will deliver the commentary. I am John Block headed for China.

John Block Reports from Washington

China

June 14, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Next week, I am going to China. Last November, I was asked by the National Association of Farm Broadcasters to lead a team of farm broadcasters and ag leaders to visit China. At that time, we all knew how important China is to our industry. We knew then that there was some risk of a trade conflict with China, our number one customer. However, we had no idea that it would escalate to the level we face today. Of course, our team can’t fix it, but we will be able to get an up-close understanding of the situation.

We fly to Shanghai next Thursday. Then, we take the bullet train to Beijing. In Beijing, we will go to the U.S. Embassy where we will meet with U.S. officials, including Ambassador Terry Branstad. The next meeting is with Chinese agricultural representatives. Of course, we will walk on the Great Wall. We will then go to three other cities and visit farms. Then, off to Hong Kong for two days, and back to the U.S. on July 4. 

With all of the concern about trade wars and our relations with China, I think our farm broadcasters will have a lot to talk about. It should be an exciting adventure, and I am honored that Tom Brand, President of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters, asked me to take the lead.

Now that I have given you a heads up about our China trip, next door we have North Korea. President Trump did have what appears to have been a very successful summit meeting with Kim Jong-un. The President’s critics warned that our President was not prepared for such an important meeting. You can’t trust Kim Jong-un. His father and grandfather both did not live up to their agreements. They went back to work on nuclear weapons. 

I think we have learned that any new agreement will have to be verified. President Trump is not going to let them cheat on a deal. Kim is a new leader and this is a new day. “Complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” would be historic. 

Kim Jong-un has seen prosperous developed countries. But his country is a “basket case” with hunger and starvation. I think he wants a positive future for his people and nuclear weapons will not get him there. This whole process could blow up tomorrow, but I don’t think it will.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com.

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Issues

June 7, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

It could be announced any time, but we still don’t know. Will the EPA provide a waiver to allow the sale of E15 ethanol blended fuel during the summer? Right now, the sale of E15 is restricted June 1 through September 15. National Corn Growers Association President Kevin Skunes had this to say: “E15 is more affordable at the pump and better for the environment. There is no good reason to limit access to E15 in the summer.”

I say, let’s get it done.

Next week on June 12, President Trump is scheduled to meet in Singapore with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. No sitting U.S. President has ever agreed to meet directly with the North Korean leader. Can we get an agreement to denuclearize North Korea? Some politicians worry President Trump will not be tough enough. We need to be talking instead of getting ready for war.

Keep in mind that President Trump backed out of the agreement with Iran because it wasn’t good enough. It’s hard for me to imagine he would agree to a bad deal with North Korea.

Something else to remember – Kim Jong-un wants to see North Korea prosper. That’s not going to happen with the global restrictions they face today.

Look back – President Nixon went to China. President Reagan negotiated a deal with Gorbachev. Those surprise actions have proven historic, but they weren’t very popular at the time. We know that a one or two-day summit is not going to fix everything. But it is a start. And you can bet that South Korea will be cheering for a deal. I think China would also want a resolution. China was not happy when President Trump was rattling the saber at North Korea.

My last issue is the one that worries the ag industry the most – trade war. The back and forth tariffs between the U.S., China, Europe, Canada, and Mexico are driving our ag commodity prices down. We desperately need expanded trade to lift farm income. The Wall Street Journal reports: “China has offered to purchase nearly $70 billion of U.S. farm manufacturing and energy products if the Trump Administration abandons threatened tariffs.” That sounds good to me. Let’s cut a deal.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

This and That

May 31, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

I have some different issues to talk to you about today. President Trump and Conservative Members of Congress have been trying to cut back on wasteful spending. The President wants a more efficient government by reforming civil service rules – a “merit system” doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Our federal government has 2 million public sector employees. Because of federal rules, they are 44 times less likely to be fired than private sector workers. It’s almost impossible to get rid of a bad apple. I loved my work force at USDA when I was Secretary, but any business must be able to weed out the small number that are not performing.

Also, the President wants to employ a tool that has not been used in 20 years. He wants the Congress to rescind $15.4 billion of needless federal spending which the Congress had already approved. The above proposal will save some money and make our government more efficient. With a $21 billion deficit, there is much more to be done.

Did you take note that the NFL told their players that when the national anthem is played, “stand and respect the flag or go back in the locker room.” Those are the rules for the 2018 football season. I hear the critical voices. “That is denying freedom of expression, freedom of speech.” Well, don’t forget that those players work for the NFL. When they are working, they need to follow the rules.

I was in the 101st Airborne Division Infantry. I went to West Point Military Academy. The Army would have kicked me out in a minute if I ever did anything that disrespectful. Anyone that does something that hurts the company they work for will be disciplined, or perhaps fired. Certainly, Colin Kaepernick has every right to support a social cause on his own time. But because he refused to respect his country’s national anthem by kneeling when he should have been standing he is out of a job. I don’t care who you work for; you need to follow company rules.

And now, something that maybe you didn’t know. The world is consuming more food, especially meat, every year. Per capita consumption of meat in the U.S. jumped from 193.7 lbs. in 1981 to 214.5 lbs. in 2016. Pork sales have exploded. We sell to 100 nations. Those exports support 110,000 jobs. U.S. farmers and ranchers are the best in the world at producing food.

And, if the world population continues to prosper, our market is only going to grow.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Issues and Headlines

May 24, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Topping the chart on America’s farms and ranches has been worries about a trade war. The United States and China threatened tariffs and trade restrictions. We announced $150 billion of levies on Chinese goods coming in to the U.S. China planned $50 billion of taxes on U.S. farm products. China had closed the door on our exports of sorghum also.

But, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his Trump Team sat down with the Chinese Team and came away with good news, announcing that we have decided to “put the trade war on hold.” Here is what the New York Times had to say: “China pledged to increase purchases of American goods by $200 billion by 2020.” President Trump’s critics, however, argue that a $200 billion increase is not possible.

Okay – but maybe we could increase exports to China by $100 billion. A good chunk of that could be agriculture and energy products. We’ll take that. Now, I realize that at this point we only have a verbal agreement. However, I am hopeful. China and the U.S. need to work together. We both have North Korea to be concerned about, and a war on the Korean Peninsula would be a far bigger problem for China than the U.S.

In addition, President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping appear to be pretty good friends. If China will begin to reform their trade practices, the whole world will stand up and cheer. We realize success is not guaranteed, but there is a sigh of relief in farm country for now.

Another concern popped up that we had not anticipated. The House farm bill was put up for a vote and it failed. Thirty Republicans and all the Democrats voted against it. Some of the opponents were using the bill as leverage to get a vote on entirely separate legislation – legislation to reform immigration policy. With all of this craziness going on, let me just say that

I think we will get a farm bill. Farm bills are always hard to get across the finish line. The House and Senate will have to pass separate bills and reconcile the two. The current farm legislation is still in place and we will be fine if we can pass a bill or an extension by the end of the year.

Stay tuned.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.

John Block Reports from Washington

Trade and the Farm Bill

May 17, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

I was on the farm in Illinois last week. I went into the coffee shop, talked to neighbors, and all the questions were about a trade war and the farm bill legislation. Almost everyone in the county is a Trump supporter. They understand that the U.S. runs a massive trade deficit. It needs to be fixed. But that isn’t agriculture’s fault. Agriculture has a positive trade balance.

Turn to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). High-level negotiations last week were not able to come to a general agreement. Perhaps the most difficult program that the U.S. wants to fix is the Canadian dairy program. It is not free market. It is government managed, and it costs us. Unless a breakthrough happens quickly, with elections coming up in Mexico and Canada, don’t expect a fix this year.

Early this week, there was optimism about our Chinese trade dispute. But many questions remain. China has already cut back on buying our soybeans, corn, pork, and other products. Nevertheless, the U.S. has exported more pork and beef this year than ever before, most to other countries – not China. Keep in mind that there is a finite amount of food products produced in the world, and when China buys soybeans from Brazil instead of us, we will sell to Brazil’s customers.

In 1978, President Carter embargoed our grain shipments to the Soviet Union. That year, the Soviet Union imported a record volume of grain. They just didn’t buy it from us. There is always someone willing to sell and someone willing to buy.

I am still optimistic that we can settle our trade disputes on a positive note. Look at the farm bill. Passing the new bill is going to be a heavy lift. Would you have thought that the sugar program could be a deal breaker? Well, the sugar program is an old school, supply control, price support program. Over the last 30 years, we got rid of almost all of those kinds of support programs. Remember, we had land set asides and price supports on all of our grains. No more, and it may be time for sugar to compete in a free market. My guess is sugar will make it through one more farm bill. Why? I don’t know.

Crop insurance will be a target for cuts, but should survive with very little pain.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block down on the farm.

John Block Reports from Washington

Down on the Farm 2018

May 10, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

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I was wondering if spring would ever come. We had snow on the farm just 3 weeks ago. Suddenly, things changed. The sun came out, and it began to dry and warm the soil. I’m on the farm this week, and almost overnight we have all of our corn planted and most of our soybeans. Much of the corn is up. I can row it. It is off to a beautiful start.

A lot has changed since I was a boy and my father planted corn with a 2-row corn planter pulled by 2 old horses. Farms are bigger and more efficient. Our planter today stretches for 32 rows. Food is cheap in the U.S. because we are so good at producing it. A family will spend less than 10% of their income for food. In many African countries, they spend more than 50% of their income just to eat.

Another big change is what we plant on our farm. You don’t have to look back many years when our fields were seeded with corn – just corn, maybe some oats. Not today. Corn and soybean acres are almost equal. For the nation, soybean acres may slightly exceed corn.

Anyway, it is exciting to be on the farm as the new crop emerges. But now, let’s turn to the farm bill. We call it a “farm bill,” but more than 60% of the money is spent on nutrition programs, including food stamps, etc. House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway would like to get the House bill passed next week. The cost of the farm bill will be $867 billion over 10 years. The fight will be over how the money is spent.

Republicans want to impose work requirements or training obligations on able-bodied recipients of food stamps. Democrats are against that. Also, a number of Conservative Republicans want to cut farm “safety net” supports, including crop insurance.

Finding an acceptable balance between the farm and food supporters has never been easy. We write a new bill every 5 years, and we deal with the same conflict every time. However, there has been value in having farm and food in the same bill. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

When it’s all said and done, I don’t expect this bill to be dramatically different than the one we have now. If the Congress can’t pass a new bill this year, they will probably extend the old bill for 1 more year. In the meantime, let’s watch this crop grow.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com

Until next week, I am John Block down on the farm.

John Block Reports from Washington

Farmer’s Worry

May 3, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Farmers, ranchers, and the whole ag industry have a lot to worry about. Start with farm income – our income has been cut in half over the last 3 or 4 years. There are some hopeful developments. The drought in Argentina and a production shortfall in Brazil may help to lift some of our prices. Brazil’s corn production dropped from 94.5 million tons to 89 million tons. Argentine corn and soybean production took an even bigger hit. I see in Agri-Pulse Daybreak that Brazilian livestock producers want their government to lift tariffs on U.S. corn imports. Amazing! Do they really need our corn?

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – negotiations with Mexico and Canada will resume on May 7. There is optimism that they will end soon on a positive note. President Trump sent his top team to China to work through our trade conflict with that country. My fingers are crossed! Weather and trade have the power to make or break our industry. The National Corn Growers Association Chairman Wesley Spurlock got it right, “We need these trade negotiations to get done and ring certainty and stability back in to the markets.”

Another serious concern is the availability of farm workers. President Trump said, “We are going to let your guest workers come in.” I understand the effort to streamline and expand the H-2A Visa Program, but that may be easier said than done.

A surprising bit of information from Riverside County, California: “Farm workers with guest visas have increased tenfold in 2 years.” Increasingly, the people picking the fruits and vegetables are young, foreign-born and in the U.S. legally, on a temporary guest visa. That’s good.

More uncertainty – our farm bill runs out this year. Will we get a new one? What will it look like? The House Ag Committee has written a farm bill and Senator Mitch McConnell says he intends to bring a bill to the Senate floor. Let’s remember the House and Senate both need to get their bills passed by the full House and Senate. Then, the differences in the bills need to be ironed out and passed by both Houses. The President’s signature will make it law. It’s not going to be easy.

In spite of our concerns, we will not give up. I am John Block and I’ll be on the farm next week.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

John Block Reports from Washington

North Korea

April 25, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

A few months ago, did we ever think that direct talks between President Trump and Kim Jong Un to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula could ever happen? Of course, it hasn’t happened yet, but the process is moving that way.

After all the sabre rattling and confrontational back and forth, they are looking at late May or early June to meet. Keep in mind that North Korea has signed denuclearization agreements before and always broke the deal.

Up until now, our Presidents have refused to meet with the North Korean leader. An important step in the process that no one expected was a secret meeting between CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the North Korean leader in Pyongyang last month. Following that meeting, North Korea is saying it will indefinitely halt nuclear and missile tests and close its major nuclear test site.

The next step is that South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. They will have a lot of issues to discuss since they have been threatening each other for 40 years. President Moon Jae-in’s priority will be complete denuclearization.

If we keep moving forward, a month or two from now President Trump and Kim Jong Un will sit down across from each other to make a deal. If North Korea is unwilling to get rid of their nuclear weapons and put an end to their long range missile threats, President Trump will walk out. And then, what next? We don’t know.

North Korea has wanted a meeting with the President of the United States for many years. It looks like they are going to get it. They crave respect. I think North Korea has every reason to strike a deal. Our military threat and trade restrictions are choking their economy. Maybe they would like to become a respected member of the family of nations. Other Communist countries have changed their ways and are accepted. And beyond that, they are prospering. Look at China and Viet Nam. Look at the success of South Korea, while North Korea is a “basket case.”

Credit Donald Trump for his courageous outreach and our allies as we keep the pressure on.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Uncertain Times

April 19, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Farmers and ranchers across the U.S. are under a lot of stress as we enter planting season. Farm income has been cut in half and uncertainty fills the air as we move into the 2018 year.

Trade war - we are already being hurt, but here are some encouraging developments since President Trump imposed tariffs on aluminum and steel. Chinese President Xi’s response was strong and aggressive. But now he says he is committed to strengthening protection of intellectual property and he could mount a drive to increase our imports to China. That should reduce China’s trade surplus with the U.S. Trump responded to President Xi, “Very thankful to President XI for his kind words on tariffs, and automobile barriers, also his enlightenment on intellectual property. We will make great progress together.”

Anyway there is hope. Wait and see.

Ethanol – EPA has been giving refineries “hardship” exemptions from renewable-fuel requirements – which decrease the use of ethanol. Farm state leaders and Midwest members of Congress are up in arms.

The Ag industry does have powerful influence. President Trump is siding with his farmer supporters. The gasoline you put in your car is 10% ethanol today. President Trump says he will increase that percentage to 15%. That could create big demand for corn. Ethanol is already very popular because it is higher octane and less expensive than gasoline. Although EPA in 2011 approved E15 for 2001 and newer cars, it is sold in less than 1% of gas stations. Not surprising the oil industry doesn’t want to expand the market for corn fuel. However, I am confident it is going to happen.

Bob Dinneen, President of the Renewable Fuels Assn. said, “this will have a meaningful and positive impact on an important value-added market that corn growers have developed.” Does President Trump have the authority to just raise the requirement from 10% to 15%? We’re not sure. It is possible that more could require Congressional action. Hope we can get it done.

Will we be able to conclude our (NAFTA) negotiations with Mexico and Canada? We are getting positive feedback that is encouraging. Right now there are more questions than answers for our farmers and ranchers.

Stay tuned –

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

John Block Reports from Washington

Debt

April 12, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

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Here is what I read in the Wall Street Journal – “Deficit financing has become the mother’s milk of politics. Each party is giving the other its wish list with all the bells and whistles included and asking future generations to pick up the tab.”

The Congressional Budget Office projects the budget deficit will grow another $804 billion this year. Our debt today is already more than $20 trillion. As we look to the future, we can expect our debt to grow by an additional $1 trillion dollars each year. That is not a responsible way to govern.

Now, I think our tax cuts and growing economy can trim those projected deficits back. I hope. Remember when President Trump signed the $1.3 trillion spending bill, he was very angry and he threatened to Veto the bill. He said he would never sign a bill like that again. The Republican leadership, along with President Trump, is looking for a way to rescind some of the spending in the omnibus budget bill. There is a way. It hasn’t been used in 25 years. Decide on the cuts that can be passed with a simple majority vote in both the House and Senate. President Trump can then forward the rescission package to the Congress. 

Then, it is up to the Congress to pass it, and it is a done deal. That sounds so simple, but is it possible to get a majority to agree on what to cut and how much? I can’t imagine they would dare touch the so-called entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, which make up 70% of the spending. So – let’s put the rest of the spending on the chopping block. I would like for them to do that, but I’m not optimistic.

We all have to admit that giving something to the voters is how to buy their vote. Taking away from voters loses votes. If you want to get reelected, pass out the candy. Don’t take it away.

Remember, we have an election this November. Will members that are up for reelection be willing to deny benefits to their electorate? Tough choice. To be even-handed – would Republicans be willing to cut back any of the near-record increase in defense spending? Not likely.

The other way to deal with the debt would be to raise taxes. That’s not going to happen in this election year.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com. Have a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Clean Meat

April 4, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

All the time, we hear the loud voices of consumer groups that insist the public must be informed about the food we eat. “Label it organic.” “If it has GMOs, the consumer must know.” “You should not label it natural if it is not natural,” whatever natural means.

Now, we have millions of dollars being invested in a new “clean meat” industry. But it’s not “meat” as we know it. It’s not a beef steak or a pork chop. Can the food be labeled “clean meat or beef” if the product is grown from cell cultures in a lab? Cultured meat products don’t come from conventional animals. Doesn’t the “clean meat” label mislead the grocery shopper?

The meat industry has competed against veggie burgers over recent years; but at least they were honest about their vegetable origin. “Clean meat” has no intention of giving up its name, according to Jessie Almy, Policy Director at the Good Food Institute.

In defense, the cattlemen, the pork producers, the whole meat industry, and two separate beef associations have met with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to figure a way to protect the meat industry as we know it. 

Glynn Tonsor, a Kansas State University agricultural economist, has this to say: “There are already a lot of alternative proteins out there. But this is the first one that’s using the term “meat” in marketing and on its labels.” “Clean meat has a certain ring to it, after all. Lab-grown cultured meat product sounds like a cousin of pink slime.” Remember that? Nutritious lean meat was disparaged as “pink slime” and folks are trying to suggest livestock products aren’t “clean.” Come on!

Last month, the Cattlemen’s Association filed a petition asking the Department of Agriculture to prevent cultured and plant-based meat companies from using the terms “beef” and “meat.” Maybe the consumer groups that are always demanding truthful labeling of GMOs would join the ranchers on this issue in opposition to a misleading label. 

Don’t hold your breath!

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online

to www.johnblockreports.com. Have a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Trade

March 28, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Pick up a paper or turn on the TV – It’s all about trade.

So that’s the subject I’m going to talk about today. Will there be a trade war? Our agriculture industry that exports 20% of what we produce could get pounded pretty hard. A lot of President Trump’s critics don’t think he has a strategy to reduce our trade deficit with China. He is focusing on China now and giving relief, at least for now, to our allies. China is the target with their $375 billion trade surplus with us. They have been stealing intellectual property from us and other developed countries. China does not have a regular market economy. Their government manages everything. Tesla, a U.S. company, faces a 25% tariff when selling an electric car to China. We impose a tiny 2.5% tariff when China sells a car to us.

President Trump has alerted the world that there are a lot of unfair trade restrictions. The pressure to begin fixing the problems is intense. Now President Trump wants to impose a $60 billion border tax on China. I don’t ever remember a time when there was so much anxiety over trade. The stock market is in a state of shock.

Trade restrictions have been used many times over the years to pressure countries to change what they are doing. Remember President Jimmy Carter’s grain embargo against the Soviet Union? That was in the 1970’s. The Soviet Union was a big customer of U.S. agriculture importing a huge volume of grain. But when they invaded Afghanistan, President Carter closed the trade door to punish them for that invasion. After President Reagan was elected, and took office in 1981, he lifted that embargo.

In those days the Russian agriculture wasn’t anything to write home about. They had to import a very large amount of food to feed their people. But today – 50 years later, Russia is the number one exporter of wheat in the world. Their agriculture has been modernized. A lot of trade relations have changed over the years. We used to be number one in soybean exports; not anymore. Brazil has the lead. We are still well ahead of every other country in corn exports. Also, the United Sates is the world’s largest exporter of agriculture products combined.

Since U.S. agriculture depends so much on trade, we will continue to worry about where we are headed. Let’s hope President Trump can negotiate a deal with China to avoid a trade war and reduce our trade deficit.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Ag Day and RFS

March 22, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

This week, Tuesday March 20, we celebrated National Ag Day. The event was held at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, featuring Vice President Mike Pence as speaker. My focus today will be on his speech and our great ag industry.

But to open, I want to remind everyone that we have a rule called Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and it has been under brutal assault for weeks by Big Oil. Understandably, the oil industry is not a big fan of ethanol. But ethanol has a big fan club.

Midwest Members of Congress have stood up against the oil industry because they want to weaken the Renewable Fuel Standard. Our Members are fighting to protect the ag industry. Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dineen had this to say: “There is no justification for a RIN price cap. Refiners are doing quite well. The EPA needs to be thinking about how to allow year round use of E-15 and higher ethanol blends.” And I say – he is right.

Now, turn to Ag Day. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue welcomed everyone and introduced the Vice President. Vice President Pence, who is from a small town in south Indiana, said that agriculture is the “essence of America. Farmers lead the way.” He complimented 4-H, FFA, and the American Farm Bureau. He thanked the Department of Agriculture and all of the loyal, hardworking employees who are fighting for prosperity and the future of American agriculture.

He reviewed the President’s success in cutting regulations and taxes. He wants to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, and provide high-speed internet to rural America. It was a big crowd, including many Members of Congress. The whole event was a well-deserved and resounding success. If you had any doubts about how your American agriculture is, just compare our corn yield – 200 bushels per acre with Africa’s 20 bushels per acre.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Where to From Here?

March 15, 2018

“Where To From Here?”

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

I don’t think we have any idea where the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum will take us. There is still a lot of concern about how they could backfire on us, costing markets and pushing up the cost of cars, tractors, and everything metal. However, boosting the cost of a $30,000 car by $150 doesn’t sound like a big deal to me.

On the other hand, the ag industry knows that retaliation by some of our best customers could be devastating. Fortunately, President Trump has announced exemptions for Canada and Mexico while negotiations on NAFTA continue. This does serve as additional pressure on countries to make some concessions in the negotiations. Other allies like Europe and Japan might be able to avoid the tariffs if they can satisfy the President. The whole process is in an unpredictable state of flux.

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, rural Members of Congress, and the whole ag industry are working day and night to avoid a trade war.

With all of this going on, we cannot ignore the Pacific Rim trade pact which was negotiated during the Obama Administration – after which President Trump said it was terrible and pulled the U.S. out of the deal. It would have been good for the ag industry. Now, we need to make a favorable trade deal with those countries individually. President Trump said that the U.S. would consider joining the pact with some appropriate improvements. The uncertainty surrounding trade is off the chart. Enough on trade.

Turn to North Korea. President Trump’s abrupt, out-of-the-blue decision to meet one on one with Kim Jong-un shocked the establishment press and politicians around the world. Many feel it is a “stupid, risky idea.” North Korea will not be willing to denuclearize; our President will come home humiliated. The U.S. will look weak and foolish.

Although that might be the outcome, I believe that the meeting is worth the risk. Kim Jong-un desperately wants a face-to-face meeting with President Trump. His father was denied that meeting with President Clinton. Also, the “Rocket Man” may be afraid of U.S. military action. I credit our President for having the courage to accept the risk.

Stay tuned.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Tariffs

March 8, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Just when I was so comfortable with President Trump’s follow through with so many of his campaign promises - Conservative judges, tax reform, cuts in regulations, and securing our borders. The stock market has soared more than 30% since he was elected. Suddenly last week he said he planned to impose a 25% tariff on imported steel and 10% on aluminum. That has shocked a lot of people in the U.S. and countries around the world. We probably should not be shocked. In the campaign Trump promised to fix our huge trade deficit. He has always believed that we have been duped in global trade deals.

Farmers, ranchers and the whole Ag industry are worried about the risk that this could escalate into a trade war. We are already in difficult negotiations with Canada and Mexico over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The tariffs if enacted would directly impact Canada and Europe more than China. We have a 375 billion dollar trade deficit with China. China accounts for 50% of the global steel making capacity according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

That is up from 15% in 2000. It is obvious that their industry is highly subsidized. China is not so much better than the U.S. that they deserve to sell to us 375 billion dollars more that we sell to them. It is hard to see how the tariff proposed can force China to stop manipulating trade.

President Bush imposed tariffs on China and they didn’t work. He pulled them back. The Ag industry is afraid some of our biggest customers for our corn, soybean, pork and beef will retaliate. They could close the door on our exports. Our industry is already suffering with low prices.

Another concern is that the tariff will raise the cost of what we make from steel and aluminum. Consumers will pay the price. A can of beer in an aluminum might cost a penny more. I was reading some statistics, and I don’t think the added consumer cost would even be noticed.

President Trump has said that if Canada and Mexico will accept necessary reforms of NAFTA, then they won’t have to pay a tariff. It has been 40 years since we ran a trade surplus. We do need to skinny down our huge trade deficit. But is this the way to do it?

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

John Block Reports from Washington

Creativity

March 1, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

If we are anything in this country, we are creative – from the Internet to GPS driving my tractor planting corn.

Did you know that Goodyear Tire Company is now using soybean oil to make their tires? If you want better traction, hit the road with soy-based tires. Some new ideas flourish and others just never are accepted. Secretary Sonny Perdue wants to reform the Food Stamp Program. As part of President Trump’s budget, a portion of the support would be provided to recipients – not as credit at the store but an “American Harvest Box” of food. Food Stamp recipients could still pick and choose at the store a portion of their Stamp value. The rest would arrive in that Harvest Box.

That new approach to helping families in need has been met with some very loud criticism. But it is a new creative idea. Secretary Perdue said, “I am encouraged by Agriculture Committee Chairman Conaway’s willingness to consider a pilot program, because new, innovative ideas often need to be introduced in such a way to see that they work as intended and can be implemented by states to best serve recipients.” I don’t know if this idea is going anywhere, but we need to have an open mind.

On another subject – gene editing – we need to have an open mind. We have been eating biotech foods for more than 20 years with no ill effects. Gene editing is simpler. Make some changes in the genes and you can grow a better product. Previous generations of plant and animal breeders took hundreds of years to make improvements. Now, we can do it overnight.

Genetic engineering and gene editing are not accepted by some, but we need to accept science and take advantage of new technology. If we don’t do it, other countries will, and we will be left behind.

Biotechnology is positioned to take on insect pest management. Use biotech sterilization of mosquitos to stop the spread of Zika and Yellow Fever. The possibilities are beyond imagination.

One last subject that has been in the news every day since the school shooting in Florida – what to do about guns? President Trump has said that he is open to some new restrictions. I believe that we do have too many guns in the hands of the wrong people.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Down on the Farm 2018

February 22, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

I have been on the farm in Illinois the last few days. As we loaded a semi with market hogs and I walked through the barns with baby pigs, it made me think once again about the challenges farmers face. As I reported last week, the outlook can change pretty fast, but will it?

We like to send to market about 6,000 hogs per year. The last load average weight was almost 300 pounds each. Years ago, our market hogs weighed about 220 pounds. Our sows ran in the field until ready to farrow when we bring them into the barns. It has been really cold. The stream where our sows drink froze up. We had to haul water to them. Where was global warming when we needed it? In spite of the challenges, our pigs are healthy and happy.

Looking out over the snow-covered frozen fields it’s hard to imagine that in 2 months we will be planting corn. More concerns come to mind. Farm country is worried about trade conflict or a possible trade war. President Trump imposed tariffs on solar panels and washing machines and, in response, China closed the door on our exports of sorghum. I know that we need to do something about our massive trade deficits with China, but we don’t want this to get out of hand.

We already have what could be a very costly fight over the Renewable Fuel Standard. A large part of the oil industry would like to reduce the role that ethanol plays in fueling our cars. With corn price projections as low as they are, we can’t afford to give up any of our market. Consumers also benefit from renewable fuels. Ethanol is less expensive than oil-based fuel; and, I might add, cleaner burning which is good for the environment. Ethanol is crucial to our corn-based economy in the Midwest.

President Trump has been a strong supporter of renewable fuels. We have to stand up to a very loud and aggressive group of small oil refiners. They say that RFS is hurting their “bottom line.” Standing up for big oil is Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz. He has blocked Iowan Bill Northey from being confirmed as Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. Secretary of Agriculture Perdue needs Northey and farmers do also. If confirmed, he will be able to defend corn belt interests. I think Senator Cruz’s hold on Northey’s nomination is disgraceful. Cruz is a Republican, but the fight goes on.

I am a perpetual optimist, and as it warms up and planters start to roll, the outlook will brighten.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Opportunities & Challenges

February 16, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

I have a number of subjects to put on the table today.

To open this up, I want to remind everyone just how our farm and ranch economy is suffering today. Farm income is expected to fall 7% to $60 billion this year. That is less than half what it was just 5 years ago. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, “The state of the rural economy is fragile.” When adjusted for inflation, farm income is forecast to be at the lowest level since 2002.

On top of our income problem, nearly 40 of our states are suffering from drought and getting worse every week. The south, west, and high plains are suffering the most. Our winter wheat crop has already been damaged.

At this time, I have not read very much about drought in the Midwest. However, in talking to farmers in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and other states, they are concerned. The tiles on my farm in Illinois are hardly running. Last year at this time, our subsoil was saturated.

President Trump just released his proposed budget and it could have some influence on the money available for agriculture. Of course, we should remember that Presidents’ budgets are “dead on arrival” – because the Congress decides who gets the money and how much. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (R-TX) had this to say: “We are writing this farm bill under dramatically different circumstances than the last bill four years ago, when prices were high and rural America was thriving.” I believe that the challenges that agriculture faces today will help to protect farm program funding – especially crop insurance.

Another plus for rural America could be President Trump’s infrastructure plan. The President wants to invest $200 billion with states and private companies providing the rest. According to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, “The plan would invest significantly in our rural communities, improving broad band access, internet, water systems, roads, and more.” I have to ask the question – can our Congress come together and pass major infrastructure legislation?

I don’t know. There should be bipartisan support for some kind of a bill. We have already passed legislation to spend a lot of money that we don’t have. Why not just spend some more. I can’t believe I said that – I have always been a “deficit hawk.”

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from

John Block Reports from Washington

Political Conflict

February 8, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

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There is no shortage of issues to talk about here in Washington, D.C. President Trump and the Republican Party are adamant that the FBI and the Justice Department acted in a very unfair and perhaps illegal way in trying to make sure President Trump would not get elected in 2016. Democrats were shocked when he won. Now, we have information that may confirm the Republican argument. It’s too soon to know for sure, but I think the American people have a right to know what really happened. Stay tuned.

We have other serious questions that need to be answered. First, we haven’t funded the Federal government through this year. We have no budget for next year. Stop-gap spending bills are not the answer. Right wing Republicans want $80 billion more for defense spending. I think that is too much. Democrats want almost that much increased for domestic spending. We will just have to borrow it and add to our debt. We face a government shutdown now unless Congress raises the spending caps.

All of these money conflicts get tangled up with immigration policy. President Trump offered up a compromise proposal that I thought was very reasonable. The proposal offers a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. In fact, the President offered to double the number qualified beyond the number President Obama protected.

Of course, in exchange for his Dreamer concession, the President wants $25 billion to secure the U.S.-Mexican border – including the wall. He also wants language to put an end to “chain migration” and the “lottery” system of authorizing immigrants into the country. I found it interesting that when President Trump offered his compromise, the Washington Post newspaper (not a supporter of Trump) wrote in their lead editorial that Trump’s offer was generous and should be accepted. Where do we go from here? We need a compromise.

All of this political conflict and budget uncertainty has made it impossible to move ahead with the new farm bill. We need the spending bill to find out how much money we have to spend.

Never a dull moment in this town.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Senator Bob Dole

January 31, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association.

They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

Today, my subject is Senator Bob Dole (Kansas). Two weeks ago, he received the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest award bestowed by the U.S. Congress. Very few individuals have been so honored. The Senator is a decorated World War II veteran and served in the U.S. Congress longer than any other Republican. I thank him for all of his service to our country, but I also thank him because without his effort, I would never have had the privilege to serve as President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Agriculture.

In the fall of 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected President of the U.S. At that time, I was Director of Agriculture for the State of Illinois. I picked up the Wall Street Journal and began reading. Senator Dole was asked by the reporter: “Who should President Reagan consider for Secretary of Agriculture?” The Senator suggested 8 or 10 names. I almost fell off my chair. I was on the list.

I had never met Senator Dole. I decided that I needed to meet him. I called his office, was granted an appointment, and went off to Washington, D.C. We had a very nice discussion, and he arranged for me to meet some other Republican Senators. 

Within days, Senator Dole sent a map marked where all of the choices for the President’s Cabinet were from. They were all from the east coast and west coast. Middle America was left out. Senator Dole advised Ronald Reagan. He said, for Secretary of Agriculture, we need a “hands on farmer from the heartland.” Please consider Illinois farmer John Block for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Within 3 or 4 days, I got a call to fly to California and meet with the President-elect. I was to go to his home in Pacific Palisades, California. I rang the door bell and Nancy opened the door. After a 2-hour interview with Mr. Reagan, Ed Meese, and 2 other advisors, I went back to my hotel. The phone rang and Ronald Reagan said, “I have decided that I want you to be my Secretary of Agriculture.”

Almost speechless, I was able to say, “Mr. President, I would be proud to serve.” Senator Dole has done so much for our country and people all over the world. They would like to thank him. I extend my personal thank you and God bless America.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com. Have a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

The Shutdown and Immigration 2018

January 24, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This is Rick Frank sitting in for John Block. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

It is Tuesday, January 23, and the U.S. government has just reopened. There is no excuse for the three-day shutdown caused by our non-functional Congress and White House. I blame all of them – the Democrats, the Republicans, and the President.

Immigration has always been a difficult issue. We are a nation of immigrants – Irish, German, Italian, Jewish, African, Mexican, Hispanic, Caribbean, Asian, and Middle Eastern. We are the true melting pot of the world. That is what makes us so exceptional.

U.S. agriculture, especially the fruit and vegetable industries, desperately need and rely upon immigrant labor. Deporting hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants would not serve U.S. agriculture. The longstanding struggle on immigration is between those who want to come to America for our laws, our freedoms, and our economic opportunities and those who fear immigrants will take their jobs or add to crime.

The current debate is much more discreet. As part of the absolute need to fund the government for fiscal year 2019, both sides of the debate appear to favor the same core solutions:

• Fund our government, including the military;

• Protect the 600,000 Dreamers – those undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. as children and who have been educated here; and

• Provide more money for border and cyber security, including the President’s wall. President Trump hosted a bipartisan meeting nearly two weeks ago where he supported all of these major points. He said, “Bring me a bill and I will sign it.” On immigration, he said, “I’ll take the heat.” A bipartisan group of Senators did just that – reached a compromise to solve the budget crisis, protect the Dreamers, and start the wall. The next day, the President reneged on his pledge. Based upon most accounts, he also disparaged various African and Caribbean countries.

None of this is helpful. There is near universal agreement we need to fund the government, protect the Dreamers, and enhance border and cyber security.

The America I am proud of is one that is welcoming with a big heart. Immigrants add richness to our society, most pay taxes, and contribute to our uniquely “American” culture. The America I love is also one where our government can function rationally and competently like it used to.

Enough is enough! Pass the budget, legitimize the Dreamers, and end this ugly rhetoric.

Until next week, I am Rick Frank sitting in for John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

The Shutdown and Immigration 2018

January 24, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This is Rick Frank sitting in for John Block. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife

America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of

healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

It is Tuesday, January 23, and the U.S. government has just reopened. There is no excuse

for the three-day shutdown caused by our non-functional Congress and White House. I blame all

of them – the Democrats, the Republicans, and the President.

Immigration has always been a difficult issue. We are a nation of immigrants – Irish,

German, Italian, Jewish, African, Mexican, Hispanic, Caribbean, Asian, and Middle Eastern.

We are the true melting pot of the world. That is what makes us so exceptional.

U.S. agriculture, especially the fruit and vegetable industries, desperately need and rely

upon immigrant labor. Deporting hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants would not serve

U.S. agriculture.

The longstanding struggle on immigration is between those who want to come to

America for our laws, our freedoms, and our economic opportunities and those who fear

immigrants will take their jobs or add to crime.

The current debate is much more discreet. As part of the absolute need to fund the

government for fiscal year 2019, both sides of the debate appear to favor the same core solutions:

• Fund our government, including the military;

• Protect the 600,000 Dreamers – those undocumented individuals who came to the U.S.

as children and who have been educated here; and

• Provide more money for border and cyber security, including the President’s wall.

President Trump hosted a bipartisan meeting nearly two weeks ago where he supported

all of these major points. He said, “Bring me a bill and I will sign it.” On immigration, he said,

“I’ll take the heat.” A bipartisan group of Senators did just that – reached a compromise to solve

the budget crisis, protect the Dreamers, and start the wall. The next day, the President reneged

on his pledge. Based upon most accounts, he also disparaged various African and Caribbean

countries.

None of this is helpful. There is near universal agreement we need to fund the

government, protect the Dreamers, and enhance border and cyber security.

The America I am proud of is one that is welcoming with a big heart. Immigrants add

richness to our society, most pay taxes, and contribute to our uniquely “American” culture. The

America I love is also one where our government can function rationally and competently like it

used to.

Enough is enough! Pass the budget, legitimize the Dreamers, and end this ugly rhetoric.

Until next week, I am Rick Frank sitting in for John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Good Things Done

January 17, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

From my perspective, our government has been getting some good things done.

Remember a year ago when hundreds of out-of-town thugs blocked the construction of the North Dakota pipeline? The government spent millions of dollars on law enforcement and court fights. In the end, the pipeline was completed.

North Dakota is enjoying the benefits of that $3.8 billion project. Oil production grew by 78,000 barrels a day in September and October compared with last January. They have 15 additional drilling rigs in operation. The state unemployment rate was a low 2.3% in November. State revenue jumped $43.5 million in 5 months. It is obvious, with that pipeline completed and in business, it is creating jobs and economic growth.

The other benefits are just as important. The environment is protected. Oil train traffic is cut by 90%. They used to need 12 trains and 1,200 train cars to move that oil. Oil spills occur far more often when transported by train. Pipelines are safer and more efficient. With the North Dakota pipeline done, maybe the Keystone pipeline can be next.

We have a government today that is willing to stand up to the environmental fringe and take action. Another example of common sense stepping up is that the Administration rolled back the boundaries of 2 controversial national monuments that President Obama rushed through in his final days. The Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are both in Utah. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke “released 2 million acres from the monuments for traditional uses and public access will be restored.” Ranchers are cheering. So is Utah’s Governor and Congressional delegation. Environmentalists are screaming.

If you live east of the Mississippi, you don’t think about the vast amount of land that the federal government controls in many of the western states.

I’m not against the government owning and controlling some land, but too much is too much. We need to be able to graze it and mine it.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Trump - AFBF Speech

January 11, 2018

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

It has been 25 years since a President of the United States addressed the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). The last President to speak was President George H. W. Bush. President Donald Trump spoke this week in Nashville, Tennessee to a cheering, packed house of farmers and ranchers. They came from all across the nation to their National Convention.

The AFBF Convention is a big deal. President Trump knows that rural America elected him, and his attendance and presentation were to assure his base that he is on their team. As he spoke to the issues and concerns of farmers and ranchers, the excitement and applause rocked the room.

Farmers and small businessmen have been crying for relief from the estate tax. The recently passed tax reform legislation answers that. The President said, “From now on, most family farms and most business owners will be spared the punishment of the deeply unfair estate tax known as the death tax, so you can keep your farms in the family.”

Exports are so important to the ag industry, and the President’s criticism of trade agreements has raised a lot of concern. The President has threatened withdrawal from NAFTA. That trade agreement with Canada and Mexico has been very good for our industry. The President said that U.S. negotiators are still “working very hard to get a better deal.” He did not mention withdrawal.

Overreach with government regulations has been one of our concerns for years. President Trump said that the “…years of crushing taxes and crippling regulations – NO MORE.” That got a standing ovation. We will “ditch the WOTUS rule” was another barn burner. He would end the “regulatory assault” and put more money back in farmers’ pockets.

The President’s words helped to satisfy some of the concern that the farm and ranch industry worry about. He said we will get a new farm bill this year, and crop insurance is a priority. Broad band connection for rural America must be expanded. Roads, bridges, and waterways must be fixed. The President expressed his love for farmers and ranchers and rural America and their organizations – the Farm Bureau, 4-H, and FFA. I think it was a great speech. The forgotten heartland is now on center stage.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Christmas and a New Year

December 28, 2017

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

I hope you had a Merry Christmas. With this holiday season and the New Year upon usold memories from the past come flooding in to my mind. It’s time to relax and think about the life we have lived and the life we want to live.

I’m not going to talk about politics or government today. I’m going to play for you 2 songs that I recorded at Christmas time with Savannah my daughter. She was 8 years old at that time – 16 years ago (2001).

(Two Songs)

I’m sure that those of you listening might have some special memories that you might want to recall.

Let’s ring in the New Year with hope, optimism, and love.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online

to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

John Block Reports from Washington

Tax Holiday Reform Passes

December 21, 2017

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by John Deere and the National Corn Growers Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary -

The Holiday season is here. Amazing – Tax reform legislation has passed, and President Trump has signed it. That is a big Christmas present.

President Trump and Republicans in Congress got it done without any Democratic help. Before President Trump was elected Democrats including President Obama wanted to cut the Corp. tax rate, but they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the Republican bill that cuts the rate. Critics of the bill had the main stream media as their attack dog. Now we will see, as it goes into affect if the voters like it or not. I know that small businesses, farmers, and ranchers are supportive. The tax rate for partnerships and sub chapter S Corporations will be reduced. The estate tax exemption will double. That will protect family businesses.

Critics of the bill argue that the rich get big tax cuts. Well, some of them will, but not all. Some in the east and west coast cities where they have a high level of state and local taxes complain that since the bill limits the deduction of those taxes, they will pay more. But those are the rich people anyway.

Here is the best estimate when the new tax package is in place 1). The top 20% will pay 65% of the taxes. 2). The top 5% will pay 50% of the taxes. It looks like the rich will be doing their part. Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute found that those making $40,000 - $50,000 would see their income taxes reduced by 51% by 2019. Individuals making $50,000 - $75,000 would see a 24% reduction. That’s a tax cut for the middle class. Opponents of the bill have been telling us that it “will raise taxes on the middle class.” Well, we shall see.

I am quick to admit the tax legislation is not perfect. I am concerned that the tax package is predicted to add 1 trillion dollars to our national debt over the next 10 years. At the same time I believe letting individuals and businesses keep more of the money that they earn is a good thing. They can use the money to build the economy and create jobs.

The new tax bill is the law of the land. Of course it’s not perfect, but don’t let perfect be the enemy of a good tax bill. Merry Christmas – I am John Block from Washington, DC

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

John Block Reports from Washington

Egg Regulations

December 14, 2017

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and the Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Maybe the “chickens are coming home to roost” in California. The state of California can’t think of enough new regulations. In 2015 California passed legislation demanding that if you wanted to sell eggs in California you had to adhere to their cage law. Midwest states such as Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska were crying foul. We are supposed to have free trade between states.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is scheduled to announce a new law suit against California egg regulations. He wants the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and rule the California regulations unconstitutional. He said, “this discrimination against Missouri farmers will not stand.”

The law’s mandate of cage size per chicken did not affect the welfare of any animals in California. Its sole purpose and effect is to discriminate against non-California egg producers by increasing the regulatory burden. Enforcement of the California law would be a burden on all consumers. The Economic Policy Analysis and Research Center estimates the added cost to consumers to be between $227 million and $912 million. The added cost of eggs will be disproportionately born by low income families. Egg prices have been distorted across the country since the California regulations were imposed.

Eleven other states have joined Missouri in challenging California. I can just imagine all the possible regulations that states could impose in order to shut out competition from other states. The next step might be that all chickens be free range. Why not outlaw crates in hog production. Maybe litters would have to be farrowed in the field like I did in the 1970’s. We had more than 500 litters born outside in the woods. We had to finally bring them in to the barn because the foxes were stealing my baby pigs.

If the federal government decides that we should adhere to some common standard, we can consider that. However, we can not allow individual states to write the rules.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Duarte vs. Big Government

December 7, 2017

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and the Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

You may have heard about the John Duarte wetlands case. John Duarte, a California farmer, bought 450 acres in 2012. He plowed and planted it to wheat. The Army Corps of Engineers, the California Water Quality Control Board, and the EPA came after him. He was looking at a $2.8 million fine and a $40 million mitigation penalty for plowing without a permit. This whole story is unbelievable, but I’m not making it up.

Facing a possible bill from the government that would bankrupt him, Mr. Duarte reached a settlement costing him $330,000 in civil penalties and $770,000 in wetlands credits. The fight is over – for now.

According to Gary Baise (also with OFW Law and Chair of the Trump Agriculture Advisory Team), who helped to get this case settled, “This case leaves many open questions.” I talked with Mr. Duarte last spring. I couldn’t believe what I heard. The farm had some wetlands and swales. The farm drained into a couple of creeks which are classified as “waters of the U.S.” The government said that he violated the Clean Water Act.

I didn’t think the government could deny a farmer the right to farm his land. We have property rights. Duarte used a chisel plow, and the government said it was moving the soil, and that was not allowed. When he bought the farm, it had been in the Conservation Reserve Program. The government said that you need to get a permit to plow land that had been in the Conservation Reserve Program.

My farm in Illinois has some low places in some fields that could be classified as wet lands. The fields are along Spoon River – a “water of the U.S.” My understanding is that there is an exemption for normal farming under the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps of Engineers’ position was that since the land had not been farmed in 20 years, Duarte needed a permit to plow.

Okay, if that is the way it works, I have land in the Conservation Reserve Program that has not been farmed in more than 10 years. If I don’t keep the land in reserve and decide to plow it and plant it to corn, do I need a permit? Would they even give me a permit?

I don’t think we have heard the last of this question. The settlement with Duarte is very confusing and is frightening to farmers across the land.

Next week, I will be on the farm in Illinois – harvest time!

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

The U.S. Department of Ag Team

November 30, 2017

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and the Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

The U.S. Department of Ag is taking a very long time to fill some of our most important management positions. The administration has 4 under secretary posts unfilled and 3 Asst. Secretary jobs unannounced. Sec. Perdue’s choice for the newly created farm services and conservation post- Bill Northey should have already been confirmed by now. But no- Republican Ted Cruz has put a hold on him. Cruz thinks he can force some concession on the renewable fuels issue. He is doing this for the oil industry.

Greg Doud, our nominee to be U.S. Trade’s Chief Ag. Negotiator has been blocked by Sen. Jeff Flake (R. Ariz.). Flake wants something out of the NAFTA negotiations on tomatoes. For Republican Senators to block Sec. Perdue’s choices for these very important jobs is terrible. It is blackmail. I know how faithful and capable the career employees are at U.S.D.A. However having led the Ag Department myself, I know how important it is for the Sec. to have his team in place.

The other issue that I will put on the table is much more positive. Trade – U.S. Ag exports in fiscal year 2017 jumped $10.9 billion to $140.5 billion – the 3rd highest level on record. The U.S. Ag industry has run a trade surplus for over 50 years. Our trade surplus of $21.3 billion this year was 30% above last year.

Sec. Perdue had this to say, “U.S. Agriculture depends on trade. We hope to open additional markets. I’m a grow-it-and-sell-it kind of guy. If American Ag producers keep growing it, USDA will keep helping to sell it around the world.”

China is our largest customer buying $22 billion worth of product. Canada is number 2 at $20.4 billion, and Mexico is number 3 at $18.6 billion. Soybeans are the leader in commodity exports reaching $24 billion followed by (your guessed it) corn at $9.7 billion. Exports are responsible for 20% of U.S. farm income. I think the case is pretty clear.

Don’t screw up a good thing as we pursue trade negotiations with other countries. It’s time to get Ag trade negotiator Greg Doud confirmed along with the other Dep. of Ag leaders.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Thanksgiving

November 23, 2017

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and the Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

We just celebrated another Thanksgiving. And we do have a lot to be thankful for. Our economy is roaring with GDP in the 3% range and near full employment.

The best advantage that we have is that we don’t live in the Middle East where years of war have destroyed the homes and lives of millions. We have been watching the suffering on TV and hope stability can be reestablished soon.

We don’t live in Africa either. The U.S. has only 1% of our population farming and ranching. Yet, we produce so much food that we export 25% of our production. The cost of food here eats up only 9% of a family’s disposable income. In Africa, 65% of the population live on farms, and they have to spend 70% of their income to buy food to feed their family. Not much money left for computers and cell phones.

The U.S. Midwest corn yields were in the 200 bushels per acre range this year. Average yields in Africa are 20 bushels per acre. Our Thanksgiving dinner here this year was the lowest cost since 2013. Turkey, sweet potatoes, peas, stuffing, and gravy for a family of 4 = $49.12 – 75 cents less than last year.

I know as farmers we think meat and grain prices are too cheap. The story here is that U.S. food price inflation has been very stable for several years. That’s a credit to our ag industry. Public confidence in our economy continues to go up.

I know there are serious problems all over the world. Look at North Korea, threatening their neighbors and even our country. I think we have come to realize that we can’t fix all the problems in the world. We will do what we can, but there are other developed nations that need to do their share. President Trump told them that, and he is right. We need to focus on our own security and our own needs.

Today’s priorities for agriculture are:

1. We need a new farm bill next year;

2. We want tax reform; and

3. Trade is so important to us that we worry about that all the time.

For now, I say “thank you God.” We are grateful for our blessings.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue

November 16, 2017

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and the Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

Last week, I attended the Farm Broadcasters Annual Convention in Kansas City. Over the last 35 years, I have attended almost all of the NAFB events. This year’s convention attracted a near-record crowd. It was very exciting.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue spoke and took questions from the audience for more than an hour. He reminded us why Secretaries of Agriculture rarely miss the convention. It is the perfect opportunity to communicate his message across the country.

I also was at the Ag Roundtable luncheon this week here in Washington, D.C. where Steven Censky, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture spoke. Having had the chance to hear from the Secretary and Deputy, both of them in the past week, I can say they have strong support from the ag industry. We are convinced that they have our backs. Their priority issues are our priority issues.

Trade – “We need to improve the North American Free Trade Agreement, but do no harm,” according to Secretary Perdue. He expressed his frustration with Europe and their many barriers to our exports. He made clear that a bilateral agreement with the UK can be negotiated.

Farm Bill – Congress needs to get it done. The current bill will carry us through next year. My experience is that farm bills never get done until the last minute. We can hope to have a bill by the end of next year. Secretary Perdue said, “The 2018 bill will be evolutionary – not revolutionary.”

Immigration – agriculture needs the labor to pick the strawberries, milk the cows, and butcher the hogs. The Secretary said the Administration understands that. Congress is working on legislation to provide legal labor for our industry. They need to hurry and get it done.

Infrastructure – Deputy Secretary Censky made clear the priority the Trump Administration has for locks and dams, roads and bridges, and seaports.

Tax reform – That is the hottest piece of legislation out here right now. The House and Senate need to pass their tax bills. The bills will not be the same. Then they need to be negotiated, and if a final bill can be put together and pass both the House and Senate, President Trump will sign it. The goal is to pass tax reform before Christmas. Good luck.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

Tax Reform

November 9, 2017

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and the Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

Tax reform is a hot topic here in the nation’s capital. That doesn’t mean that Congress will be able to pass the legislation. On paper, the planned tax overhaul will increase the national debt by $1.5 trillion (over the next ten years).

Larry Summers, who served as economic advisor to President Obama, argues that there is no rationale for adding to our debt. President Reagan’s Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, Martin Feldstein, is 100% behind the Republican tax reform bill. He had this to say: “The most important reform is to cut the corporate tax rate from 35% (the highest among industrial countries) to 20%.” I agree. We have to compete with other countries. Our big corporations will move to Ireland or some other nation with a very low rate. We already have companies such as Apple with trillions of dollars sitting in other countries. They are not going to bring that money home unless we have a more competitive rate.

The new tax plan brings down the tax rate for individuals except for those that make more than $1 million. Individuals earning less than $24,000 will not pay any taxes. There will be a limit of $500,000 mortgage interest deduction for newly purchased homes. The housing industry is complaining about dropping the deduction down from $1 million to $500,000. Why should we allow the rich to write off interest paid on a $2 million home or maybe two or three expensive homes?

On the plus side, small businesses will be allowed to deduct interest on business loans. That is appropriate. Farms borrow a lot of money for seed, fertilizer, and crop protection. Those are legitimate business expenses.

Small businesses are also excited that the “death tax” may be about to breathe its last. Assets exempt from the tax will double and after six years the tax will be gone.

There will be a limit of $10,000 of state and property taxes that can be deducted. Farmers and ranchers that own a lot of property pay a lot of property tax. That tax has always been an acceptable write-off. This provision could be costly to some.

Our Tax Code is too complex. Loopholes need to be closed and the Code needs to be simplified. Tax cuts should strengthen the economy and create jobs. The tax reform process is just starting. It could change. It could fail. I hope we get it done.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

NAFTA

November 2, 2017

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and the Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

Today, let’s talk about trade and tax reform. President Trump wants to improve the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the Congress is presenting a tax reform package. NAFTA is in the spotlight right now. The whole farm and food industry is worried that President Trump could formally withdraw the U.S. from that agreement.

Eighty organizations and companies sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, saying that withdrawal would be a disaster for agriculture and rural America.

Here is the cost:

1. We would sacrifice 50,000 jobs in our industry and a national drop in GDP of $13 billion.

2. We would erase $800 million in the value of corn and increase farm program costs by $1.2 billion.

3. We would lose $500 million in high fructose corn exports.

Mexico and Canada account for 40% of our pork exports. Canada is our second largest chicken market. 70% of our turkey exports go to Mexico. Mexico and Canada account for 27% of total beef shipments. Dairy exports to Mexico equal $1 billion per year.

If we pull out of NAFTA, we run the risk of losing all of the favorable ag trade advantage that our industry enjoys today. I realize that, overall, we run a trade deficit with both Mexico and Canada, but for the food and agricultural industries, it is positive.

We are making our concerns known loud and clear; hopefully, we can get a reasonable resolution. We did it before.

Just last month, the ag industry joined together to urge President Trump to keep in place the renewable fuels standard. We got that done in spite of the EPA that wanted to weaken biofuels targets. Never a dull moment out here.

On tax reform, the Republicans want to lower the corporate tax rate and cut personal income taxes. That sounds good to me, but where do we get the money to run the government? That is the challenge. I will talk in detail on this issue next week.

Our soybeans are all in the bin at the farm. Corn is maybe a week behind. Be safe in your harvest.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to http://www.johnblockreports.com Have .a great weekend.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington

The Opioid Crisis - Stop Pointing Fingers

October 26, 2017

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and the Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

This is Rick Frank sitting in for John Block. And now for today’s commentary—

The opioid epidemic is a national crisis. Drug overdoses are killing 64,000 Americans each year. It is the leading cause of death for individuals under 50. It requires urgent action and solutions from across our society – the Trump Administration, the DEA, manufacturers, prescribers, distributors, dispensers, and patients.

The recent sensational reporting of the Washington Post and CBS’ Sixty Minutes where a bitter, retired DEA employee blamed the problem on drug distributors does nothing to address this extremely serious problem.

Distributors do not manufacture, prescribe, or dispense opioids. Doctors prescribe. Pharmacists and clinics dispense. And importantly, the DEA annually sets a quota for how much of these drugs can be manufactured and sold based upon what it considers to be “medically necessary.”

Solutions will not come easily but there are some good ideas out there.

1. DEA should reduce the amount of these drugs which can be produced and dispensed annually.

2. “Medically necessary” prescriptions should be limited as to the number of pills and duration – 3- or 7-day prescriptions not a month or longer.

3. FDA should take a hard critical look at current approvals and consider reducing prescription strength and indications where abuse is the greatest and other alternatives exist.

4. DEA should coordinate with State Boards of Pharmacy to pull licenses and prosecute known “pill mills.”

5. DEA and State Medical Boards should carefully scrutinize physicians prescribing hundreds of thousands of pills per year and, where appropriate, pull their licenses.

6. DEA should follow the law and conduct a rulemaking to define “suspicious orders” to assist distributors in knowing where and when a customer should be scrutinized and shipments suspended.

7. Educational programs should be initiated to help the public realize that “leftover” pills need to be properly destroyed or returned. 

Only by working collaboratively can the DEA, prescribers, manufacturers, distributors, dispensers, and the public make a dent in this horrible tragedy impacting large and small communities throughout our nation. Finger-pointing and politically motivated investigative reporting will not solve the problem.

Until next week, I am Rick Frank for John Block from Washington.

John Block Reports from Washington