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Published June 04, 2012, 08:24 AM

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USDA seeking comments on release times for statistical reports

By: Agweek wire reports, Agweek

USDA seeking comments on release times for statistical reports

• WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Agriculture chief economist Joseph W. Glauber announced May 30 that USDA is reviewing release times for several major statistical reports because of recent changes in market hours by major commodity exchanges. The National Agricultural Statistics Service and the World Agricultural Outlook Board — the USDA entities responsible for the reports — will seek public comment on the release times and procedures of their key statistical reports. In the coming weeks, USDA expects to publish a notice in the Federal Register advising the public of the comment period. USDA is reviewing release times of the following statistical reports: World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, Acreage, Cattle, Cattle on Feed, Crop Production, Grain Stocks, Prospective Plantings, Quarterly Hogs and Pigs and Small Grain Summary. The current USDA release times of 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. (ET) will remain in effect until further notice. “It is important that USDA continue to ensure the integrity of its report release process, particularly as global exchanges move closer to 24-hour trading,” Glauber says. “To this end, USDA is reviewing our procedures and will solicit public input to determine the needs of those who use our data.”

Japanese trading company acquires U.S. grain merchant

• TOKYO — Marubeni, the Japanese trading house, says it will buy the U.S. grain merchant Gavilon Group for $3.6 billion, as it looks to ship U.S. agricultural products to fast-growing Asian markets. Buoyed by a strong yen, Japanese companies have been spending billions of dollars in recent years to secure access to resources like minerals and natural gas, activity that has helped fuel a global commodities boom. The Gavilon acquisition would allow Marubeni to become a top global player in grains, handling more than 55 million tons annually, according to a statement from the Japanese company. The deal for Gavilon, whose investors include the billionaire George Soros, would also give Tokyo-based Marubeni far greater control of supply and distribution in the United States, the world’s largest agricultural exporter. Gavilon, based in Omaha, Neb., is the third-biggest grain distributor and trader in the U.S., behind Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. The company has been expanding its global presence, acquiring the DeBruce Cos. in 2011 to bolster assets in the U.S. and Mexico. In a separate statement, Orascom Construction Industries of Egypt says it is selling its 16.8 percent stake in Gavilon to Marubeni for $605 million. With Gavilon, Marubeni gains critical exposure to the U.S. agriculture market, securing supplies for its home market. Japan is the largest grain importer in the world, relying on imports for 60 percent of its food in terms of calories. The country is also the biggest customer of U.S. agricultural produce. Marubeni also hopes to position itself to supply growing demand in Asia, especially in China. As it continues to industrialize, China faces shrinking farmland and other production constraints.

Klobuchar optimistic about passage of farm bill

• WILLMAR, Minn. — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is the second member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation to express confidence that a new farm bill will be passed this summer. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said recently that he was optimistic that the farm bill could be passed before Congress' August recess. During a recent trip to Willmar, Minn., Klobuchar said floor debate in the Senate is to be held in June. The bipartisan support in the Agriculture Committee should lead to bipartisan support on the Senate floor, too, she says. Once it’s through the Senate, “there’s a lot of pressure on the House to get it done,” Klobuchar says. She says the farm bill passed out of committee on a 16-5 vote with members of both parties voting in favor of it. All Midwestern senators on the committee supported it. “That kind of vote shows we believe we have the votes to move forward to get cloture,” Klobuchar says, referring to the rule that allows a three-fifths vote to limit debate and move to a vote. The agriculture committees have planned $23 billion in budget cuts in anticipation of broad budget cuts that will need to be made at the end of the year. Asked what happens if the farm bill doesn’t pass, Klobuchar says it could cause many problems. It would damage the safety net that has helped keep agriculture “so incredibly productive” for the past decade, she says.

Government expanding E. coli tests in meat

• WASHINGTON — The government is expanding E. coli testing in some raw meat, a move expected to prevent more people from contracting the bacteria that can cause severe illness or death. Starting June 4, the meat industry will have to test beef trimmings for six new strains of E. coli that have been linked to a growing number of illnesses. Until now, the meat industry has been required to test for just one strain of the pathogen, known as E. coli O157:H7. That strain was identified after an outbreak at Jack in the Box fast-food restaurants killed four children. But illnesses from that strain have decreased as more people have been sickened by other strains found in foods such as lettuce and ground beef. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says the change is needed to protect Americans from foodborne illnesses. “We cannot ignore the evidence that these pathogens are a threat in our nation’s food supply,” Vilsack says. Food safety advocates for years have been pushing the Obama administration to expand testing, but the change was delayed while the meat industry fought the proposal. The industry says the tests are too expensive and there aren’t enough benefits. The new tests will be conducted on beef trimmings — parts of the cow used to make ground beef — and expanded later to ground beef itself and other cuts. Last year, the agency collected nearly 2,700 samples for testing from meat processing plants nationwide. That number won’t change, but each sample will now be tested for the six additional E. coli strains.