March 17, 2020

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State passes emergency bills with unprecedented speed
With support across the aisle and no opposition, state lawmakers passed two emergency measures late yesterday related to the outbreak, in concert with a request by Gov. Newsom.
One bill ensures schools are funded during closures and delivers $100 million for cleaning efforts. The other bill appropriates up to $1 billion to the governor for emergency medical responses to the outbreak.
“We are placing an extraordinary degree of trust in Gov. Gavin Newsom. However, these are extraordinary times,” said Republican Assemblymember Jay Obernolte of San Bernardino County.
The state also extended tax deadlines. The various deadlines for partnerships, LLCs, individuals and quarterly payments have all been pushed back to June 15, according to a statement by the Franchise Tax Board.
State Controller Betty Yee said: “During this public health emergency, every Californian should be free to focus on their health and wellbeing.”
All other legislative and regulatory hearings in person, meanwhile, are being canceled across California this month. The Senate did pass a measure allowing senators to participate remotely in meetings.
What do ag producers need to know? AgriSafe Learning Lab is hosting a webinar on April 2 to instruct farmers and others in transmission risks, infection controls and prevention.
The last big holdout, Kern County decides to close schools
Out of California’s 25 largest school districts, Kern County was the only one left to cancel classes. Yesterday morning, however, the district recommended all schools close by tomorrow and not open up again until at least April 14.
To support online schooling, the California Broadband Council has asked providers to offer free internet services until the end of April, according to CalMatters.
Klamath farmers appeal to Supreme Court
California and Oregon farmers in the Klamath Basin are asking the Supreme Court to review a lower court decision that found their water rights were subordinate to some tribes.
Last year, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals determined that a halt to federal irrigation deliveries in 2001 in order to protect endangered species did not constitute a “taking” of Klamath farmers' water rights. The Bureau of Reclamation decision cut off water to farmers for months, partially to protect two fish species in Upper Klamath Lake.
According to the Klamath Water Users Association the appeals court ruling “upends a century of western water law.”

delta smelt, an endangered Delta species
UC Davis fish scientist calls BiOps a ‘science charade’
Peter Moyle, the state’s leading researcher on endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, is arguing that science does not favor the new biological opinions governing Delta flows.
In a blog post for the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, Moyle, along with another ecologist and a conservation law expert, also side against the proposed voluntary agreements, arguing they would “lock in the water withdrawals” without knowing if they worked.
They write: The BiOps “treat existing science as old and obsolete, claiming it is no longer the best available science. But science is not milk. It doesn’t just go bad.”
They also argue new science requires more water to be left in the Delta, not less. The BiOps also focus on real-time monitoring for fish populations near the pumps. But the researchers say the populations are too small to detect.
If the Newsom administration succeeds in voluntary agreements, they conclude, “look for the media blitz to emphasize that science supports their approach.”
Remember: The same researchers also support floodplains projects for rice fields near the Delta, which help to restore salmon habitats while benefiting farmers.
Pandemic roils food and ag industry
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to deepen, raising new fears about the impact on the food and ag sectors.
There are growing concerns in the livestock sector about shortages of workers and federal inspectors due to the pandemic. Another concern: Restrictions on transportation.
“We’ve got to make sure that we continue to keep the supply chain moving. This is a food security issue for the American people,” said Ethan Lane, vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Food industry is ‘critical': The federal government’s latest recommendation to Americans is to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people for the next two weeks and to stay away from restaurants and bars.
But the two-page document released by the White House Monday says that if you work in a “critical infrastructure” industry, and that includes “healthcare, pharmaceutical and food supply, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”
By the way: The smaller U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is seeking direct aid from USDA to cope with the plunge in cattle prices. In a letter to the department, that group says the aid is “needed to ensure that cattle producers and feeders that are experiencing excessive price losses are provided immediate relief.”
USDA tries to address industry fears
USDA is seeking to allay the concerns about a loss of USDA personnel due to the outbreak. Meatpacking plants, for example, can’t operate without federal inspectors on site.
In a joint statement, Mindy Brashears, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, and Greg Ibach, the undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, say their agencies were prepared to use “all administrative means and flexibilities to address staffing considerations.”
The statement provided no detail on what steps the agencies might take.
Relief package clears House
The pandemic relief package passed by the House over the weekend is headed to the Senate after a technical correction to the bill cleared the chamber Monday evening. The package would expand USDA’s food assistance programs and suspend food stamp work requirements.
“Senators on both sides are eager to act quickly to support American workers, families and small businesses,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a tweet Monday afternoon. But Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer told reporters that a number of her Senate colleagues want to make changes in the bill.
The Senate Agriculture Committee’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. told Agri-Pulse she is worried about the impact on the U.S. economy. “Certainly, with everything that our farmers have been through, this is just one more thing,” she said about coronavirus market implications.
Now, for the good news: Chicken exports to China
Port operations in China are improving as the country combats the spread of the coronavirus and the U.S. poultry sector is reaping the benefits, says Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council.
A little over a month ago, several shipments of U.S. chicken going to China had to be diverted to ports in Hong Kong and South Korea as stevedores stayed home to avoid public places.
Also: China is moving toward allowing imports of US distillers grains by announcing a list of eligible U.S. exporters. Read more here.
Shipping problems remain
Coronavirus is still causing expensive delays at ports, according to the Agriculture Transportation Coalition.
“Currently, ocean carriers are imposing demurrage fees even when the container is not physically available to be picked up, and detention fees when the terminal is not accessible for the container to be returned,” the group said in a new letter to Federal Maritime Commission.
“With ongoing challenges posed by the coronavirus, there is real concern about these fees being assessed when there are equipment issues beyond the control of the shipper or motor carrier.”
USDA bars reporters on coronavirus threat
USDA is barring reporters from its Washington headquarters until Apr. 3, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Outlets such as Agri-Pulse and RFD-TV have long maintained office space at USDA to better cover the department. On Monday, Agri-Pulse reported that USDA had shut down a wing of its headquarters because an employee tested positive for coronavirus.
Brian Mabry, a deputy director for the office of communications, denied that media are being singled out. He said the department is “utilizing telework and social distancing” to protect employees.
They tweeted it:
“There will be ZERO farms closing due to the coronavirus.” – a message shared by the Butte County Farm Bureau yesterday.

Ben Nuelle, Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.

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