Ag Briefs: China uses trade as weapon to silence virus criticism

Wisconsin State Farmer
Midwest Ag Briefs


Duvall cites concerns over market manipulation

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall says farmers have serious concerns about potential market manipulation of meat prices. According to a report in Bloomberg, Duvall was in Des Moines, IA for a roundtable discussion with Vice President Mike Pence and meat packing and grocery store chain leaders.

Duvall said ranchers are “frustrated by this disparity between the rock-bottom prices that we’re receiving and some of the sky-high wholesale prices that we’re seeing being charged.”

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating meatpacking companies for possible antitrust violations, according to the report, as the industry comes under scrutiny over the plant shutdowns that have disrupted supply. Packer margins have surged in the last month as beef prices rose and cattle prices stayed low.

Earlier this week, Duvall urged authorities to do more to help farmers as bankruptcies in the industry accelerate.


Greenhouses destroy infected geraniums

Dozens of Michigan greenhouses destroyed a popular geranium after cuttings were found to be infected with rare bacteria that could threaten U.S. food crops if spread. 

The infected cuttings of Fantasia Pink Flare geraniums imported from Guatemala went nationwide, but Michigan was the hardest hit, said Elizabeth Dorman, a plant pathology lab manager at the state agriculture department.

"This disease in particular (could cause) major devastation to our food crops, like potatoes, peppers and tomatoes," Dorman said. "Countries that are dealing with this disease cannot ever plant these crops back into that same soil. There's no effective chemical control to manage the disease."

In Michigan, 41 facilities imported the geraniums. A grower notified authorities after noticing a strange wilt on the flowers, the Lansing State Journal reported. 

Ralstonia spreads through irrigation water, soil or equipment. It kills plants by blocking water and nutrients from moving through their vascular systems.

It was last found in the U.S. in 2004. The federal government considers the bacteria a "select agent" because it can be used in bioterrorism.


Gov. signs bill aiding farmers facing foreclosure

Gov. Tim Walz has signed a bill that stops farm foreclosures until Dec. 1 for farmers struggling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic who elect to take part in creditor mediation.

Minnesota's Farmer-Lender Mediation Act requires any creditor foreclosing on agricultural debt of $15,000 or more to provide the debtor a legal notice of their right to a neutral state mediator. The law normally provides for 90 days to reach agreement. But the legislation that unanimously passed the House and Senate last week and was signed Monday temporarily extends the deadline to 150 days or Dec. 1, whichever is later.

Rep. Todd Lippert, told Associated Press that his bill is meant to help farmers stay on the farm as they face packing plant and ethanol plant shutdowns, low milk prices and the need to euthanize hogs and poultry.

The bill protects farmers from foreclosure through harvest time, and buys time for the markets to recover and for federal aid to come to farmers.


Shop offers 'tear gas' flavor ice cream

Tear gas is among the new flavors at a Hong Kong ice cream shop. The main ingredient is black peppercorns, a reminder of the pungent, peppery rounds fired by police on the streets of the semi-autonomous Chinese city during months of demonstrations last year. 

According to an Associated Press report, the flavor is a sign of support for the pro-democracy movement, which is seeking to regain its momentum during the coronavirus pandemic, the shop's owner said. He spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions from the pro-Beijing government. 

He tried different ingredients, including wasabi and mustard, in an effort to replicate the taste of tear gas. Black pepper, he said, came closest to tear gas with its throat-irritating effects.

At about $5 a serving, tear gas ice cream has been a hit. Prior to social distancing regulations over the coronavirus outbreak, the shop's owner said he was selling 20-30 scoops per day. 


China uses trade as weapon to silence virus criticism

Trying to silence criticism over the coronavirus pandemic, China is deploying a well-used weapon — trade sanctions.

Beijing has blocked some imports of Australian beef after Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government, endorsed by Washington, called for a robust inquiry into the origins of the outbreak and rebuffed Chinese demands to back off, according to Associated Press.

The move is the first time Beijing has used access to its huge markets as leverage in its campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak. 

Beijing has suspended beef imports from four Australian slaughterhouses, however, and is threatening huge tariffs on barley in moves it says are simply about regulations.

Last year, Beijing blocked imports of canola as it stepped up pressure for Canada to release a Huawei executive who was detained on U.S. charges. The Chinese government said it found pests in Canadian shipments, which the suppliers said was unlikely.

China began blocking imports of Philippine bananas in 2012 in a dispute over territory in the South China Sea. And in 2010, China blocked imports of Norwegian salmon and canceled trade talks after dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by an independent committee appointed by Norway's parliament.


Sausage making plant shut down over virus cases

A Kansas plant that makes sausage shut down after employees tested positive for the coronavirus, and an outbreak that has infected hundreds at the state's largest prison claimed the life of another worker.

The shutdown at the Johnsonville plant in Holton, which employees about 230 workers, took effect Wednesday after five employees tested positive, according to Associated Press. 

Johnsonville said all employees will continue to get paid, and downtime will be used to implement additional safety measures, such as installing additional barriers between workstations where social distancing isn't possible. 

The state has now seen eight clusters of coronavirus cases in meatpacking plants, including one in Missouri close to the state line that employs Kansas workers. The closures have accounted for 1,536 cases and four deaths.


Ag workers walk off job over COVID-19

Some agricultural workers in Yakima County are continuing to protest what they consider unsafe working conditions at several fruit warehouses during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Yakima Herald-Republic reported that more than 100 employees walked out of the Monson Fruit Co. in Selah.

An employee told the news outlet that workers were protesting an inadequate supply of personal protective equipment, sanitizing, and social distancing inside the plant.

Workers also are afraid to call in sick, fearing they will lose their jobs.  Workers also reported they weren't being informed when their colleagues tested positive for COVID-19.


Farmers give away potatoes to needy 

Washington state farmers will give away more than 200,000 pounds of potatoes as part of a mission to get 1 million pounds of potatoes into the hands of people in need.

The News Tribune reports  the potatoes were meant to be sold to restaurants and other food service establishments but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

With so many restaurants closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the state's potato farmers have storages full of potatoes that were scheduled to be turned into french fries, tater tots, hash browns and many other frozen potato products.

The Washington State Potato Commission has coordinated with local volunteers at the Tacoma Dome, the City of Tacoma and Emergency Food Network to help hand out the bags of potatoes.