DC Talk Back with Alan Bjerga

July 5, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn (RFD-TV) A breakthrough on rice and poultry trade with China is just weeks away, according to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who says rice protocol is close to being finalized. “I am hoping it is going to be weeks,” he said. “Those are my expectations: weeks. Certainly not years, and hopefully not months.” And the U.S. officials will show poultry quality and safety controls to their Chinese counterparts later this month. Secretary Perdue recently travelled to China to help mark the re-opening of the U.S. beef market there.

Bloomberg News Journalist Alan Bjerga joined us live during the broadcast of today’s “Market Day Report” to discuss the Chinese ag markets and other hot topics on the Hill right now that pertain to agriculture.

Speaking of Perdue’s trip to China, Bjerga commented, “It was mainly about beef: they’re celebrating the opening of the U.S. beef to China for the first time since mad cow [disease] in 2003, but you have some other commodities in line as well, of course. Rice – the rice protocol is something that is being discussed a lot, and you are always looking for ways to sell more corn and more soybeans. U.S. markets are becoming ever more reliant on Chinese soybeans, and it’s one thing that’s keeping up the commodity price.”

“It is being considered a successful trip,” Bjerga continued, “and it’s the first of many trips that are going back and forth. There’s word that a Brazilian delegation may be coming to the United States. Of course, they have some concerns about the U.S. shutting off their beef exports. We’re in a phase of the administration where a lot of people are trying to just get to know one another, and, of course, mainly they’re meeting Sonny Perdue. Now, the downside of that is that Sonny Perdue is kind of the only guy they can meet because the administration appointments still aren’t in place, and there can be more meetings and more progress once you have those boots on the ground.”

When asked to comment on the battles surrounding the Congressional budget, Bjerga remarked, “Agriculture is at the center of the battle, and you’ve seen some frustration by conservatives, such as the Heritage Foundation, at agriculture’s position on the budget. With the Farm Bill up in 2018, the position of the House Agriculture Committee, Chairman Michael Conaway, is ‘Look, we’re the experts. We can meet a budget number, but please let us do our work.’ The annual budget doesn’t see it quite the same way: they’d like to make some changes to the SNAP program, they’re very skeptical of crop insurance. They would like for agriculture to be making bigger cuts now. It’s been one of the things that’s been holding up a budget agreement. That was supposed to happen before the Fourth of July. We are now past the Fourth of July; Congress is still wondering what it’s going to do.”

When asked what members of Congress are likely hearing from their constituents while they are home on recess, Bjerga surmised, “Well, I’m sure a lot of them are hearing that it’s pretty hot outside! You hear some things about the drought on the northern plains, and you hear about some of the other weather issues that we’re having across the country. The commodity markets are very much driven by weather now, not policy. But at the same time, you have to be concerned about certain things with policy. Good news on China, but people are still wondering: ‘What is this NAFTA renegotiation going to look like? What is the next Farm Bill going to be looking like? What is this budget environment going to do to affect that Farm Bill conversation?’ A lot of questions.”