March 31, 2020

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Researchers worry about PPE supply
Staff for CDFA’s Pierce's Disease Control Program are trying to gauge the need in the wine industry for personal protective equipment (PPE), like gloves and glasses, and for cleaning materials. Companies are facing challenges in procuring PPE through normal suppliers, as hospitals scramble for more PPE during the coronavirus outbreak.
The CDFA program is “trying to gather data and prepare to resolve critical supply chain needs” and anticipate shortfalls, according to Family Winemakers of California. The department is collaborating with the Office of Emergency Services on the issue.
On that note: The Fresno fairgrounds will host a makeshift hospital to treat COVID-19 patients. Under guidance from CDFA, fairgrounds across the state have been transitioning their services recently to serve as staging grounds for emergency operations during natural disasters.

A third of all restaurants could close forever
In a letter to the Newsom administration, the California Restaurant Association has said up to 30,000 restaurants could permanently close across the state without further aid.
The estimate includes help from the $2-trillion rescue package passed last week.
The association proposes delaying a number of other regulatory activities, including a planned minimum wage increase, property tax payments and sales and payroll taxes.



Produce industry appeals to USDA

Fruit and vegetable producers across the nation are seeking help from USDA on a number of fronts to stem losses from the market disruptions created by the COVID-19 crisis. 

In a four-page letter to USDA, more than 70 industry groups are asking USDA to set up a plan for reimbursing growers and shippers for losses “due to the collapse of the food service sector.”

The groups also want USDA to take over schools’ cancelled produce contracts and to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables for federal feeding programs. 

Keep in mind: The $2 trillion stimulus bill just signed into law earmarks $9.5 billion for specialty crop producers and others. 

COVID-19: ‘Very large’ impact on farm income seen
Economists already were predicting that 2020 would be another tough year for the farm economy even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and oil prices plunge. Now, a top farm economist who’s advising USDA says he expects the pandemic to have a “very large” impact on farm income.
University of Missouri economist Pat Westhoff, who is preparing some estimates for USDA, says he’s not ready to release the numbers. But he suggests that the pandemic could wipe out the potential income boost that would have been provided by the "phase one” trade deal with China.
“It seems very likely to us that we're talking about a significant drop in farm income this year,” he said in a webinar sponsored by the St. Louis Agribusiness Club.
Both USDA and Westhoff’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute had estimated that net cash farm income would fall to about $110 billion this year, a figure that didn’t account for a potential surge in exports under the China deal. Westhoff now thinks net cash farm income could be under that number because of the pandemic.
Ouch: Prices for many commodities have tumbled as the COVID-19 crisis has grown, Westhoff notes. Cotton prices have fallen 25% since Feb. 4. Live cattle prices are off 16%. Milk and corn prices are down 11%.
Take note: Farm states continue to have some of the lowest number of COVID-19 cases. As of Monday, Wyoming had 94 confirmed cases, by CNN’s count. South Dakota had 101 and Nebraska 145. (By comparison, New York state had 66,497 and California had 5,763 confirmed cases.)
But experts continue to warn that illnesses are inevitably going to skyrocket outside highly populated states, too. President Trump, by extending his social distancing guidelines until April 30, has effectively ruled out any regionalization of those restrictions at least until May.
Lawsuit seeks COVID-19 hazard pay for federal workers
Five federal employees, including a Food Safety and Inspection Service inspector, have sued the federal government for hazard pay for working during the coronavirus crisis.
The plaintiffs seek to represent a class of federal employees who have been exposed to objects, surfaces or individuals infected with the virus since Jan. 27. They argued those General Schedule (GS) employees should receive 25% hazard pay because of their exposure to “virulent biologicals.” 
The lawsuit also seeks 4% or 8% increases in pay for Wage Grade (WG) employees who have worked with or close to “hazardous microorganisms,” depending on the availability and effectiveness of personal protective equipment.
On our website: A USDA poultry plant inspector is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking hazard pay for federal workers exposed to coronavirus through their work.
Enviros take aim at WOTUS
Nine environmental groups have served notice that they plan to sue the Trump Administration over its new “waters of the U.S.” rule, alleging EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers did not adequately consider its impact on endangered species.
The Natural Resources Defense Council leads the coalition, saying that the agencies’ failure to consult with federal wildlife agencies violated the Endangered Species Act.
"Wetlands no longer protected under the rule support a diverse range of animals by, for example, acting as integral components of food webs, and providing breeding sites for birds, nursery habitat for amphibians, colonization opportunities for invertebrates, and maturation habitat for insects,” says the groups’ letter to EPA and the Corps.
Another coalition filed a similar notice of intent last month.
Still hope for Chinese rice imports
When China recently released a list of 679 U.S. commodities that importers could apply to buy tariff-free from the U.S., rice was not on it. That may make it more difficult for U.S. exporters, but sales are still expected, U.S, industry and government officials tell Agri-Pulse.
A spokesman for the USA Rice Federation says the announcement by China’s Tariff Commission “included a clause that allows products not explicitly listed to still apply for waivers, to date, we are aware of several waiver approvals for unlisted products and we anticipate Chinese rice importers to follow the same path to receive waivers.”
China agreed in the “phase one” trade deal to honor its WTO tariff rate quota commitments, which include a pledge to buy about 6.3 million metric tons of rice annually.
Chinese importers have been applying for and getting tariff exemptions on corn, soybeans, wheat, pork and other U.S. commodities.
USDA extends ReConnect deadline again
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA is extending the second-round application deadline for its ReConnect program again. The application window will run through April 15.
This is the second time the deadline has been moved from its original deadline of March 16. In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. 
He said it:
“If the virus gets into the farmworker population, I think we’d see a very fast rise in infection, which would have a dramatic impact on the farm sector and food supply.” - Bowles Farming CEO Cannon Michael, in an interview with the Public Policy Institute of California

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

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