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Farm Labor Is A Top Task for USDA's Perdue -- Market Talk

12:54 ET - USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue reassures members of the House Agriculture Committee that farm labor is top of mind for him, while offering no specifics on efforts to address problems like worker shortages. Labor shortfalls are a pressing issue for US farms, and staffing concerns have been heightened in recent months by the Trump administration's efforts to tighten immigration enforcement. Still, Perdue tells lawmakers that "the president understands the contribution immigrant labor has made to our fields and farms," and that while he can't immediately articulate plans for a path forward, "trade, labor and regulations are jobs one, two and three." (jesse.newman@wsj.com; @jessenewman13)

Perdue Affirms Support for Rural Development -- Market Talk

14:24 ET - Lawmakers give newly-confirmed USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue an earful on concerns over his commitment to rural development. During Perdue's 3-plus hour testimony to Congress on the state of the rural economy, multiple members of the House Agriculture Committee air worries over his recent move during a reorganization of USDA to scrap the position of undersecretary for rural development, shifting oversight of related programs to the secretary's office. Rather than reflecting reduced interest in issues like housing, water and infrastructure, Perdue says the change is "an elevation with influence and access," and tells skeptics in Congress to "wait and watch and see what I do." (jesse.newman@wsj.com; @jessenewman13)

STORIES OF INTEREST

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Ag Secretary Sees Rural Broadband Helping Young Farmers -- Market Talk

12:05 ET - Internet connectivity in rural America is on USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue's to-do list, not least because the Farm Belt could be drained of young people without it. With the average age of the US farmer approaching 60, Perdue says college graduates aren't likely to return to their family farms without easy internet access, especially because it's a necessary to run much of the high-tech equipment and data gathering that has taken hold in the farm sector. "I look forward to promulgating [rural broadband] as much as we can across the country," Perdue says in comments to lawmakers on the House Agriculture Committee. (jesse.newman@wsj.com; @jessenewman13)

Perdue Pegs Trade as Key to Ending Farm Crisis -- Market Talk

11:23 ET - USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue says international trade will be critical to bringing an end to the yearslong farm slump, in his first testimony before the House Agriculture Committee since taking the helm of the agency four weeks ago. "We've got to sell our way out of this supply-and -demand situation that is depressing prices in the US now," says Perdue, who last week created an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. Key to turbocharging overseas crop sales will be the undersecretary's regular presence and deal-making in foreign markets, Perdue says. "This guy's going to be a million-mile flier around the world." (jesse.newman@wsj.com; @jessenewman13)

Dow to Shed Corn Seeds to Win Deal Approval in Brazil -- Market Talk

11:31 ET - Dow Chemical (DOW) will divest "a select portion" of its Brazilian corn-seed business to win the country's approval for its merger with DuPont (DD). DOW has estimated it's the second-largest corn seed supplier in Brazil, thanks in part to varieties that have been genetically engineered to resist pests, and the country's expanding farm fields have been a major growth area for DOW's seed business. That unit delivered about $1.5B in total sales in 2015. Dow has also agreed to sell some seed processing plants and research centers, a copy of its Brazilian corn-gene "bank," and its Morgan brand, while agreeing to license the Dow Seeds brand for a period of time. (jacob.bunge@wsj.com; @jacobbunge)

FUTURES MARKETS

Hog Futures Inch Higher on Pork Demand

CHICAGO -- Hog futures rose on Wednesday as strong demand for pork continued to fuel a rally in the market.

June lean hog futures touched a three-month high at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange before easing off those peaks to close 0.2% higher at 78.90 cents a pound. Some contracts for later-month delivery fell, however.

CASH MARKETS

Zumbrota, Minn Hog Steady At $45.00 - May 17

Barrow and gilt prices at the Zumbrota, Minn., livestock market today are steady at $45.00 per hundredweight. Sow prices are steady. Sows weighing under 450 pounds are $43.00-$45.00, 400-450 pounds are at $43.00-$45.00, 450-500 pounds are $43.00-$45.00 and those over 500 pounds are $47.00-$49.00.

The day's total run is estimated at 200 head.

Prices are provided by the Central Livestock Association.

Estimated U.S. Pork Packer Margin Index - May 17

This report reflects U.S. pork packer processing margins. The margin indices

are calculated using current cash hog or carcass values and wholesale pork

cutout values and may not reflect actual margins at the plants. These

estimates reflect the general health of the industry and are not meant to

be indicative of any particular company or plant.

Source: USDA, based on Wall Street Journal calculations

All figures are on a per-head basis.

Date Standard Margin Estimated margin

Operating Index at vertically -

integrated operations

*

May 17 +$24.70 +$ 54.32

May 16 +$21.99 +$ 52.17

May 15 +$21.29 +$ 48.71

* Based on Iowa State University's latest estimated cost of production.

A positive number indicates a processing margin above the cost of

production of the animals.

Beef-O-Meter

This report compares the USDA's latest beef carcass composite

values as a percentage of their respective year-ago prices.

Beef

For Today Choice 111.6

(Percent of Year-Ago) Select 106.4

USDA Boxed Beef, Pork Reports

Wholesale choice-grade beef prices Wednesday fell $1.71 per hundred pounds, to $248.17, according to the USDA. Select-grade prices fell $2.46 per hundred pounds, to $221.93. The total load count was 144. Wholesale pork prices rose $1.00, to $85.67 a hundred pounds, based on Omaha, Neb., price quotes.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 17, 2017 17:46 ET (21:46 GMT)