November 17, 2017 

Today's News Summary:

 Headlining the news today is a report that U.S. agricultural exports totaled $140.5 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2017, climbing nearly $10.9 billion from the previous year to the third-highest level on record, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced on Thursday. As it has done for well over 50 years, the U.S. agricultural sector once again posted an annual trade surplus, which reached $21.3 billion, up almost 30 percent from last year’s $16.6 billion.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is moving ahead with some reorganization moves just a few weeks after hitting the pause button so they could be discussed further. Specifically, in a memorandum issued Tuesday, Nov.14, Perdue said he was directing that the Codex Alimentarius program in USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service be moved to the Office of the Undersecretary for Trade and Agricultural Affairs. He also has decided to eliminate the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) as a standalone agency and move its functions to a new Fair Trade Practices Area in the Agricultural Marketing Service and to AMS’ Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS).

Elsewhere, Wal-Mart shares surged to an all-time high, jumping more than 8 percent Thursday after the world's largest retailer showed it can hold its own in a challenging retail environment. Same-store sales for its U.S. locations climbed for the 13th-consecutive quarter, as the big-box retailer cited a bright spot in its food business and a boost from shoppers stocking up on hurricane supplies.

In an ongoing effort to serve its protein customers, Cargill’s North America protein business announced it is investing $146 million to expand the company’s Nashville, Tenn., facility. The investment will grow the company’s meat crumble offerings for food ingredient, foodservice and retail customers. It will include construction of a state-of-the-art dried sausage production facility and will create more than 100 jobs, which doubles the facility’s current employment.

Casual dining chains are seeing improvements, as same-store sales increased 1.4 percent in October --- leading to restaurants’ best performance since February of last year, according to the latest MillerPulse index. Traffic, however, was still down. Same-store traffic declined 0.4 percent, a significant improvement from September’s 2.6 percent decline, but nevertheless the 27th month in 29 that same-store traffic fell.

Finally today, our weekly retail segment finds that consumers may notice one thing at Thanksgiving this year—turkey prices at retail are a bit lower. Store brand turkeys at retail this week are featured at an average $0.71 per lb., down from $0.88 a year ago at this time and a multi-year low for the period. Premium brand turkeys average $1.20 per lb., down a more modest 3 cents per lb. These are average prices collected before additional promotional programs go into effect for free or further discounted birds.

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By Linda Lindner

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