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Trump administration staff threatened during crop tours

SD Ag Connection - August 22, 2019

NEBRASKA CITY, NE - In a sign of rising tensions in the farm community, the Trump administration withdrew staff from a privately run tour of Midwestern corn and soybean fields after a government employee was threatened.

According to Bloomberg News, while the threat came from someone not involved in the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour, the U.S. Department of Agriculture pulled all its staff as a precaution. Lance Honig, crops chief at the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, was scheduled to address the tour in Nebraska City  but a video interview with him was screened instead.

“Federal Protective Services were contacted and are investigating the incident,” NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer said Wednesday, without giving details on the threat. “The safety of our employees is our top priority.”

The USDA’s data arm has been the subject of ire in recent months after crop estimates surprised traders and growers who had expected the agency to significantly reduce its outlook after rain delayed planting. The USDA had already been criticized for its June estimates and took the rare step of re-surveying farmers to get more accurate numbers.

Its withdrawal from the crop tour comes about two weeks after farmers leveled criticism at Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at a fair in Minnesota over President Donald Trump’s yearlong trade war with China, which has eroded demand and pressured already low prices. Perdue was also criticized for telling a joke that characterized farmers as whiners.

In a statement this week, Farm Journal, the parent company of crop-tour organizer Pro Farmer, said it took the threat seriously and has also taken precautions to ensure the safety of participants.

“For 27 years the Pro Farmer Crop Tour has been a public service for the benefit of agriculture, in good times and bad,” it said. “And it’s clearly a stressful time right now.”

At nightly crop-tour stops in Indiana, Illinois and Grand Island, NE, farmers questioned officials from both the USDA and Pro Farmer about the government’s methodology in determining corn planted area and yields. Some growers, stung by years of low prices, were frustrated by the rapid rise in prices in May and subsequent steep drop.

Corn for delivery in December, which rose 0.4% on Wednesday, is down 11% since the release of the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report last week.

USDA officials said yield estimates were based largely on input from farmers as well as satellite imagery. Planted acreage numbers published by the Farm Service Agency earlier this month referred to Aug. 1 data and that figure has already increased, Chris Hawthorn, a NASS statistician, told farmers on the tour, explaining the difference between those figures and the ones published by NASS.

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