More money for forgivable loans pledged

Banks and Farm Credit System institutions continue to be frustrated by the rollout of the Paycheck Protection Program, the massive forgivable loan initiative that they are charged with handling on behalf of the federal government. 

But Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who worked to get the PPP included in the $2 trillion economic stimulus package known as the CARES Act, says the administration is working to address regulatory issues that have cropped up. 

Larry Kudlow, the chief White House economic adviser, said Monday that President Donald Trump would ask Congress for more money for the program if it’s needed. Rubio thinks PPP will run out of money by late May.

As for the glitches in the program, Kudlow said, “I think we're doing OK, frankly. I know there are always a few glitches, but I'd give it an ‘A.’”

Farm Credit institutions look for outside help

Just getting on the SBA system to process applications was still a problem on Monday.

On a call with stakeholders on Monday, USDA officials told stakeholders that SBA was working to try to get the access issues resolved within 24 hours, according to Mark Scanlan of the Independent Community Bankers Association.

In an update to congressional offices Monday, the Farm Credit Council said many “Farm Credit institutions are racing to reinvent their own lending systems to be able to make a loan guaranteed by SBA in the event that they get final SBA approval to move forward. Others are working to identify an outside vendor with deep experience in SBA lending that might be able to support Farm Credit customers.”

Take note: One of the concerns among farmers is wages paid to H-2A workers couldn’t be counted toward calculating how much of a PPP loan a farm could get because H-2A visa holders are not domestic employees. So far, banks have varied in whether they allow H-2A employees to count toward calculating loan amounts, says Chris Schulte, a lawyer with the D.C. firm CJ Lake.

Farm Bureau: US ag exports to China sharply lagging

U.S. agricultural exports to China are lagging far behind what they need to be to finish the fiscal year at the $14.5 billion total that was forecast by USDA, according to a statement and data tweeted Monday by American Farm Bureau Federation Chief Economist John Newton.

USDA drew gasps when it forecast the meager $14.5 billion forecast, but as of now U.S. ag exports are only about halfway there at about $7.2 billion through February, says Newton.

“Our current pace would put us between ($10 billion and $11 billion), which is well below USDA’s $14.5 billion,” Newton told Agri-Pulse. “It needs to start to accelerate.”

The $756 million worth of U.S. ag exports in February would have had to roughly double in March and then stay far above historical averages to reach the USDA forecast for FY 2019, which runs through September.

Ag groups plead to avoid fees at congested ports

 Ships with containers full of everything from produce to livestock feed are getting hit with steep fees as the coronavirus slows trade and forces shipments to idle at docks. Eighty groups representing ag and food shippers are begging the White House to intervene.

“These fundamentally unfair fees are frequently exorbitant in nature, even exceeding the negotiated freight rates in some cases, and render U.S. agriculture exports less competitive in the global markets,” the National Grain and Feed Association, National Chicken Council, U.S. Apple Association and other groups say in a letter to Kudlow and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. 

The situation was extremely bad in China at the height of the country’s battle to stem the spread of the virus and port workers and truckers did not go to work. The work stoppage has lessened in recent weeks, but delays remain, industry officials tell Agri-Pulse.

HHS: Rural hospitals struggling in pandemic

Rural hospitals have told the Department of Health and Human Services they need financial help to make it through the coronavirus crisis.

Smaller, independent hospitals, such as those in rural areas, told HHS in a survey conducted at the end of March that they are at more risk because they are not part of larger systems. “There is no mothership to save us,” one hospital administrator told HHS’ Office of Inspector General.

“Notably, some hospitals reported needing assistance in a matter of weeks in order to avoid insolvency,” the IG report said.

While we’re at it: Agri-Pulse recently reported on the plight of rural hospitals, finding that they “were already struggling to stay open before the COVID-19 pandemic struck” but now they’re in even more dire straits, in part because of the cancellation of elective surgeries and steep increases in the price of personal protective equipment.

EPA watchdog looking at dicamba decisions

EPA’s inspector general will examine whether the agency followed its own procedures and policies in addressing “stakeholder risks” when it approved dicamba registrations in 2016 and 2018.

The use of the herbicides, most notably Bayer’s Xtendimax and BASF’s Engenia, has been blamed for millions of acres of damaged crops, mostly soybeans, across the U.S.

"The anticipated benefits of this evaluation include greater assurance that the EPA has adequate controls in place to promote its goal of ensuring pesticides are reviewed for their potential risks to human health and the environment," EPA said.

The IG report is expected to be completed by summer or early fall of next year.

Cool temps could delay Corn Belt planting

Forecasts are showing cooler temperatures arriving the second half of this week and into next, which could put the brakes on any early planting across the Midwest. “We expect to see some freezing temperatures as far south as the Ohio Valley by late this week and into the weekend,” USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey tells Agri-Pulse

Rippey also anticipates a second and even third cold wave by the end of this month. He says already heavily saturated soils aren’t helping matters either. 

USDA released its first Crop Progress report of the year Monday and it mostly focused on winter wheat conditions and southern crops. Rippey says next week’s report should offer a better read on corn and soybean planting progress.

He said it. “Rural America is so important to this country. We've been taken for granted, but during this coronavirus outbreak – guess what – you kind of get back to the basics of life and realize how important food and fiber really are.” – Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., in an interview with Agri-Pulse.

Sara Wyant contributed to this report.