Japan eased its restrictions on U.S. beef imports that were put in place in 2003, an act that Dennis Smith, an analyst at Archer Financial Services, said could symbolize "tightening global supplies of beef." The restrictions were originally created when a case of mad cow disease was confirmed in Washington. Demand in cattle is expected to rise when Japan's ease in restrictions take effect on Feb. 1, which will likely cause the price per pound of wholesale beef to increase by four to seven cents. It is predicted that the national output of beef will be approximately 24.9 billion pounds in 2013, the lowest since 2004. A New York Times article explains that the new guideline will accept U.S. beef imports from cattle that are 30 months old or younger as opposed to the current 20 month standard. U.S. exports to Japan under the new system will begin as early as mid-February. Prior to the restrictions in 2003, Japan was the highest importer of U.S. cattle. Industry experts are hopeful this will improve the market after years of battling rising feed prices and drought has slowed production.
In other cattle news, the federal government continues to negotiate with Indonesia after it banned all U.S. beef imports last year when a case of mad cow disease was discovered in California. With 1.4 million U.S. jobs relying on the export market, Washington took action. Indonesia changed its policy to accept U.S. beef, but put in place harsh regulations that are nearly impossible for cattle producers to adhere to. In the latest case to be heard by the World Trade Organization, the Obama administration warns there will be consequences if Indonesia does not ease the strict guidelines for U.S. beef imports. The Obama administration argues that the current regulations are a violation of global trade policy, which guards Indonesia's domestic market from foreign competition. If the U.S. cannot settle this dispute without outside assistance by March, the World Trade Organization in Geneva will create a special panel to produce an agreement between the two nations.
Willie Nelson was awarded the first Kris Kristofferson award on Sunday before an invitation-only performance with Kristofferson at The Bluebird Café in Nashville. The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) created the award to recognize lifetime achievement. Nelson, Farm Aid founder and president, is already honored in the NSAI hall of fame. "The people I hung around with were serious songwriters who were totally unselfish," Kristofferson said, "and their hero and my hero was a guy that nobody else knew. It was Willie Nelson. He's unlike anybody else."
Changes to the national immigration laws could prove to be a solution to one of the many challenges for farmers: finding employees. Many farmers struggle to find the financial means to hire the amount of staff necessary to utilize farmland in its entirety. There is a federal H-2A law in place that allows farmers to hire foreign workers temporarily, but the program is often impractical because in the midst of difficult paperwork it also requires farmers to provide each worker with transportation, housing and three meals a day. While reform to the current immigration laws takes place in Washington, farm advocates are lobbying for ease on the H-2A restrictions. The Farm Bureau is pushing for a simple system where foreign farm workers, mostly from Mexico, will just need a card to cross the border and return when the farm work is done.
On January 25 eight senators, including Arizona Republican John McCain, proposed similar immigration reform, which would provide different treatment to illegal immigrants that are working in agriculture. The senators noted that it is difficult for farmers to find low-wage workers for the physically demanding jobs in agriculture, such as care of livestock. The outline provided by the senators, who are being called the "Gang of Eight," highlights ways for farmers to find workers when Americans are unavailable.