March 19, 2020
Newsom signs executive order to expedite food deliveries
A new executive order aims to ease California restrictions on delivering food shipments to grocery stores and medical supplies to hospitals, along with other “vital goods.” Gov. Newsom signed the order yesterday.
The measure acknowledges that “COVID-19 has caused retailers to very rapidly sell out of critical supplies, and further action is required to help restore the supply chain.” It adds that this has changed business needs in ways that were not foreseeable just days ago.
Waiving certain statutes and regulations, the order gives more flexibility on permits and to the hours of service a driver is allowed to work, for example. It adds to a similar waiver issued at the federal level last week.
On that note: The governor has been issuing a steady stream of emergency response orders. He also extended the eligibility period yesterday for CalFresh food assistance and other safety net services.
Empty shelves in a grocery store close to the state capitol.
Airlines are shipping less produce
As the number of passenger flights dramatically decreases, so does the amount of cargo space available for shipping agricultural products, according to a report by the trade journal AgAlert.
Vegetable growers are feeling the crunch now, while cherry and berry farmers will likely be experiencing steep shipping costs due to more competition for space.
Dairy Families: Vulnerable farmers should self-isolate
United Dairy Families, an advocacy group formed to stop dairy quota, is urging dairy farmers over 65 and those with health conditions to shelter in place as much as possible.
“We understand that this is not easy, especially when your livestock depend on you and your employees,” the group wrote in an email. “We recommend finding ways to be creative as we embark on finding a ‘new normal’ to daily life.”
Keep in mind: The City of Fresno joined many other cities and counties across the state in issuing an order to shelter in place. It began at midnight last night and will continue through at least the end of the month.
IN NATIONAL NEWS…
Industry appeals for worker exemptions
The nation’s agriculture and food sector continues to mobilize to try to head off supply chain disruptions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 60 industry groups are appealing to the Trump administration as well as state and local officials to classify food industry employees as essential workers exempt from restrictions on gathering and from lockdowns. A federal exemption should be granted if necessary, even if it requires congressional action, the groups say in a letter obtained by Agri-Pulse.
Some states have clearly exempted food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods manufacturing plants from curfews and gathering restrictions but others have not. “This lack of uniformity is leading to significant confusion and could further deteriorate if a level of consistency across states and municipalities is not achieved quickly,” the letter says.
The groups also say that all food transportation should be considered as “food for emergency restocking of stores” under the Transportation Department’s emergency declaration waiving hours of service limits. On Wednesday, an exemption was announced for hauling livestock.
Also: More than 40 farm groups sent a separate letter to the White House warning about the uncertainties facing the ag sector and saying they will be "sharing questions, needs, and concerns with the Administration in the coming days and weeks.”
In some other COVID-19 developments: Farm groups are asking the State Department to speed the approval of H-2A workers following the suspension of regular visa processing services in Mexico.
FDA is taking a number of steps in response to the crisis, including suspending routine surveillance inspections out of concern for their own workers and state agency contractors who perform the inspections.
MFP in the mix in stimulus talks
Senators are rushing to negotiate a deal on a $1 trillion stimulus package that lawmakers hope to get to the White House within days.
There have been active discussions about including a provision in the stimulus to top up USDA’s CCC spending authority so that it can make another round of Market Facilitation Program payments to farmers, according to Senate GOP Whip John Thune, R-S.D. Farmers are now being hurt not just because of the tariff wars but also the impact the pandemic is having on markets, he said.
There are new concerns among senators about the nosedive in cattle prices in recent weeks, so direct payments to cattle producers, possibly through a new MFP, may be merited, Thune says.
Keep in mind: Thune cautioned that there are a “lot of moving parts” to the negotiations over the stimulus package.
By the way: Separate from the stimulus issue, the White House is asking Congress for emergency funds to cover the rising cost to USDA and other departments and agencies of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The administration also is seeking new legal authority from Congress, including a provision allowing USDA to extend the repayment period for marketing assistance loans.
Emergency food aid clears Senate
Anti-hunger advocates are welcoming Senate approval of a $104 billion pandemic relief package that would expand food assistance and suspend SNAP work requirements. The bill now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.
Luis Guardia, president of the Food Research and Action Center, called the bill “a vital down payment for addressing this public health and economic crisis. Feeding America, which represents the nation’s food banks, called the bill an “important first step toward providing our network with the needed food, funds and flexibility to immediately help people in our communities.”
EPA pesticide labeling regulation probed
EPA’s inspector general is examining whether the agency has been properly implementing a provision in the federal pesticide law allowing states to set conditions on the use of crop protection chemicals.
The provision is the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act’s Section 24(c), which says states can expand the use of pesticides. States have also used the provision to restrict pesticide use, most notably since the introduction of new dicamba herbicides in 2016.
EPA expressed concern about the practice last year, but has not taken any action to limit states’ use of 24(c).
Leo Reed, incoming president of the Association of American Pesticide Officials, said AAPCO “is very concerned that the agency may rescind or modify what states have done for many years.” He says the use of 24(c) is necessary because a single federal label "cannot possibly take into account every scenario across multiple cropping systems and multiple scenarios.
He said it:
“It’s in challenging times like these when farmers’ and ranchers’ true passion shines: feeding and contributing to the stability of our local communities, state and country.” – California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson
Steve Davies, Bill Tomson and Ben Nuelle contributed to this report.
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