March 26, 2020
‘Dirty Dozen’ targets strawberries
At a time when millions of Americans are trying to eat more healthy fruits and vegetables, the Environmental Working Group is out again with its latest Dirty Dozen list examining USDA and FDA data on pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables.
Conventionally-grown strawberries tested in 2015 and 2016 “contained an average of 7.8 different pesticides per sample, compared to 2.2 pesticides per sample for all other produce,” EWG said, topping their list.
In a separate evaluation, EWG said 99 percent of non-organic raisins and 91 percent of organic raisins contained at least two pesticides.
Keep in mind: Data from USDA’s 2018 report found residues of 33 different pesticides on 756 raisins, but virtually all were under EPA tolerances set for individual pesticides. Twenty-six pesticides were detected on 189 strawberries, but all were lower than EPA tolerances.
CropLife America and EWG both say the benefits of a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables outweigh the risk of pesticide exposure. But while EWG says consumers should still use its guide when making choices, CLA says “federal regulators monitor our food for pesticide residues, ensuring produce and other foods are safe to eat.”
Jack Bobo, CEO of the consulting firm Futurity Food, said the "list couldn’t have come at a worse time," with stress already high over the coronavirus. Bobo argues it discourages eating fruits and vegetables and is a disservice "to the farmers struggling to deliver safe and nutritious food.”
SGMA showing impacts on agricultural land values
Yesterday was supposed to be a celebration of the 30th year for a report on agricultural land values from the California chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. The conference had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, but the report was still released.
It shows a sharper rise in the impacts from the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Most of the San Joaquin Valley had completed groundwater sustainability plans by late 2019. This led to rising land values for properties with access to surface water and steep declines for those reliant on well water.
Appraiser Janie Gatzman, who co-chaired the report, notes that the “influence of (SGMA) was apparent in many areas, as market participants began to fully account for anticipated changes in water supply.”
Concerns rise over smallholder farmers during outbreak
Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, a cooperative extension advisor for small farms and specialty crops in Fresno and Tulare counties, has been worried about smallholder farmers who are marketing directly to farmers’ markets, farm stands and restaurants.
With strawberry season peaking next month, she explained, suburban consumers would normally be flocking to these establishments in search of fresher, sweeter strawberries. Her assistant, Michael Yang, each year maps out about 15 farm stands in Fresno for this – with more that take place in Visalia, Merced and Sacramento.
“This is likely going to be greatly disrupted by COVID-19 and shelter-in-place, and these farmers may lose a lot of income,” said Dahlquist-Willard.
She is asking for help in setting up an online system for consumers to pre-order boxes, which would avoid lines, crowds and handling cash.
Western Growers asks USDA to back claims on perishable commodities
With so many restaurants shut down, “the foodservice sector has all but vanished, along with orders for fresh produce,” according to a statement yesterday by the Western Growers Association (WGA). The Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) of 1930 was designed to protect farmers in this situation. But the law is limited when the buyer is bankrupt.
Today, many growers “are already facing repeated requests from their buyers for payment extensions beyond the standard 30 days,” according to WGA CEO Dave Puglia. Yesterday, he urged USDA to guarantee the payment of all legitimate PACA trust claims.
“We fear the existing process may not be enough to withstand the unprecedented financial losses our growers stand to experience,” he writes in a letter to USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue.
On that note: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has added a new FAQ page on PACA for the produce industry. It cautions that a farmer who agrees to a payment beyond the 30 days established in the regulations “would automatically lose their PACA trust rights.”
AND IN MORE NATIONAL NEWS…
Will Phase 3 be enough?
The $2 trillion Phase 3 stimulus package that could clear Congress today has a lot for ag, but not everyone thinks the sector is getting what will be needed for 2020, starting with USDA.
The department had asked Congress for $50 billion in spending authority under the Commodity Credit Corp. to cover all the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as provide a possible new round of Market Facilitation Program payments.
What the department will get in the bill is $14 billion to replenish the CCC, plus an additional $9.5 billion to cover pandemic impacts to specific sectors – livestock, specialty crops and local food systems. It’s believed that USDA has about $8 billion left in its CCC account. The 2019 MFP payments totaled about $14.3 billion.
Keep in mind: If exports don’t pick up appreciably, there could be pressure on Congress to provide more CCC authority. And there are likely to be other demands for additional rural spending as well.
“In the coming weeks, we will learn more about the additional needs of our rural health care system, farmers, and rural communities, and we urge Congress to be ready to address them,” said Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union.
Some other highlights of the massive Phase 3 package:
• Marketing loans will be extended three months to a full year.
• Democrats wanted, but did not get, a temporary increase in SNAP benefits, something Congress did in 2009. The bill provides $15.5 billion to meet a surge in enrollment but not to increase benefit levels.
• Another $450 million is earmarked for commodity assistance to food banks.
• Rural hospitals will get some help with their cash flow. All hospitals can request an advance of up to 6 months of what their Medicare payments equal. Critical access hospitals can get an advance of up to 125%.
What’s next: Lawmakers are expected to exit D.C. for an extended period after the House passes this bill. Phase 4 will come later. It could include renewable energy incentives and infrastructure spending.
Read our coverage of the Phase 3 bill here.
Trump asked to delay new tariffs during pandemic
Twelve GOP senators are asking President Donald Trump to hold off on hitting any of our trading partner countries with new tariffs that often provoke retaliatory measures, hurting U.S. agricultural exports.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and others fired off a letter to Trump on Wednesday, pleading for the suspension of “any measures - pending or new - that would create uncertainty or undue difficulty for American workers, families, farmers, ranchers, and businesses, and asking our global trading partners to do the same.
“To that end, we urge you to consider a total moratorium on new tariffs or tariff increases for the time being. Because of the economic strain due to COVID-19, our businesses and consumers will have less flexibility to adapt to tariffs.”
USDA acts on travel restrictions
Concerned that state and local travel restrictions could disrupt “essential services” such as inspecting meat and grain or delivering commodities, USDA is asking employees and contractors to carry a new federal directive and ID.
USDA has heard anecdotal reports of travel restrictions interfering with the delivery of commodities purchased by the Agricultural Marketing Service. No major interruptions have occurred, sources tell Agri-Pulse.
“This information is being furnished to (AMS) contractors to assist them in continuing to perform the essential government function of food production and delivery on behalf of (AMS) when law enforcement professionals seek to enforce otherwise applicable city or state shelter-in-place orders,” says USDA.
He said it:
“I’ve had some very comforting conversations from grocers, their representatives and the ag community that they feel they’re up to the task to meet this moment.” – Gov. Newsom, in an evening press conference Tuesday.
Hannah Pagel, Bill Tomson, Ben Nuelle and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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