News bites, January 2005

This article was originally published in January 2005

Food imports

For the first time since the 1950s, the United States is expected this year to import more food than it exports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In other words, it’ll be the first time in more than 50 years that the country buys more food than it sells.

The United States has long relied on global grain exports to maintain a wide surplus in farm trade, helping to reduce a swelling trade deficit. But now it appears that the United States can no longer count on food exports to make up some of the difference, and the USDA isn’t predicting any change in this trend.

The agency says most of the increase in farm imports is in oils for food processing, snack foods, wine and beer, red meats, processed fruits and vegetables, fresh vegetables, and miscellaneous grocery products.

The vast majority of the products are coming from the European Union, Mexico, Canada, China, Indonesia, Brazil and Australia. (Wall Street Journal/Agribusiness Examiner)

Cow power

A dairy farmer in Lynden, Wash., is the first in the state to begin using manure from cows to produce electricity. Darryl Vander Haak says that if dairy farming on the West Coast is to survive, it needs to move ahead with projects such as methane digesters. The digesters provide another source of income so dairy farmers don’t rely solely on checks from milk. Two neighboring dairies to Vander Haak also will supply the digester with manure.

The $1.2 million project is expected to start paying off in five to seven years, maybe sooner. The project won a grant from USDA’s Rural Development Renewable Energy Systems Improvements Program, and got assistance from Washington State University’s Climate Friendly Farming Project. Puget Sound Energy will purchase the digester’s electric output as part of its “green power” program. (BioCycle, Journal of Composting and Organics Recycling)

Trademark fight

An interim World Trade Organization decision means the European Union could lose its fight to keep names of regionally produced products, such as Champagne and Parma ham, from being used by producers outside of Europe. A final ruling is expected in 2005 regarding the EU’s list of 41 wines, cheeses and other regional products. (BBC, The Washington Post)

Washington agriculture

More than one-third of Washington’s food industry depends on exports, and now there’s good news especially for Washington’s organic farmers. A new agreement with European organic certifiers is allowing organic products certified by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) to be accepted without additional provisions that can slow or impede their distribution in the United Kingdom (UK).

The WSDA program has been recognized for accreditation by the British Soil Association (the largest organic certifier in the UK) and IFOAM, widely recognized as the premier organic accreditation system in the world. Washington exports a lot of organic apples and pears to Europe, especially the UK. The WSDA says there are about 890 certified organic operations in Washington. (Washington State Department of Agriculture)

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