Aid demand grows as produce industry details ask
Requests for COVID-19 relief are piling up at USDA. The produce industry is the latest to weigh in, with proposals to USDA to provide up to $5 billion in payments to growers and dealers who were hammered by the loss of markets after restaurants, hotels and schools shut down.
The United Fresh Produce Association and Western Growers were joined by a broad array of national and regional industry groups in making the appeal.
That plan came a day after milk producers and dairy processors made a joint appeal for aid from USDA. Their plan includes payments to farmers to cut production and to processors to keep buying milk.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue pledges in a letter to the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, that the COVID-19 aid will be distributed in a “fair and equitable” manner.
The main focus of the letter is to defend the way the department crafted the 2018 and 2019 versions of the Market Facilitation Program. As he did at hearings last month, Perdue argued the MFP payments were also fair and equitable. “The MFP was never intended as a general market or price support program, or to compensate producers for the impacts of imported product on domestic markets,” Perdue writes.
Stabenow has been a vocal critic of the MFP payments, saying they unfairly favored southern producers.
White House wants $250B more for PPP
President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are promising to fix the application process for the Paycheck Protection Program and make sure that banks can participate and that small businesses get the money they need.
The White House is seeking an additional $250 billion for the forgivable loans on top of the $350 billion that was in the Phase 3 economic stimulus bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wants to pass the additional funding by unanimous consent or voice vote on Thursday.
A House vote could come Friday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN she wanted to make sure PPP wouldn’t “solidify inequality.”
Keep in mind: Interest among farmers in PPP remains high, but they continue to struggle to apply for the program.
“While we believe that it is clear that farmers with fewer than 500 employees are eligible for the PPP loans, we continue to get reports that farmers are being told otherwise, by bankers, accountants and in some cases state SBA offices themselves,” said Veronica Nigh, an economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
She added it “would be helpful if SBA could provide a plain language statement that would put this question to rest.”
By the way: AFBF on Tuesday published a fresh analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on farmers.
Corn demand to sink further as ethanol plants close
Domestic demand for corn has taken a turn for the worst with POET’s announcement that it is idling three ethanol plants in Iowa and South Dakota and postponing the opening of a plant in Indiana.
The result, says POET, will “reduce corn demand by 110 million bushels, freezing 330 million gallons of ethanol production across the four facilities.”
The POET closings are just the latest development as ethanol plants are being shuttered or slowed across the country because fuel demand is sinking rapidly during the coronavirus pandemic that has pulled people out of their cars and into their homes.
“Nearly half the industry may be offline within weeks, and without swift and decisive action in Washington, many more may soon halt grain purchases or close their doors completely.” - Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor.
By the way: The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal has denied refiners’ request to rehear a ruling that disallowed some exemptions for biofuel usage mandates. The refiners have 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Plant closures erode corn basis prices
Basis prices for corn are beginning to deteriorate as more and more ethanol plants idle production. “That has really reduced demand for corn in the eastern Corn Belt,” Purdue University Ag Economist Jim Mintert tells Agri-Pulse.
He said corn basis prices at Tippecanoe in west central Indiana had a 20-cent swing from $.11 above average in the second week of March to $.09 below average in the fourth week.
US imports from China drop off, hampering ports and trade
Chinese workers are going back into factories and ports, but U.S. demand for the many of the products have dropped as retail stores close down, causing havoc in shipments in both directions.
Demand for imports of containers full of retail products from China has dropped “to their lowest level in five years,” according to the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. It’s not just bad for importers, says American Farm Bureau Federation economist Veronica Nigh.
“With the U.S. being a couple months behind the Chinese on the coronavirus, the pace of our purchases in the U.S. have slowed dramatically, so there’s not as many containers available to send stuff back,” she told Agri-Pulse. “You end up with a mismatch of availability of containers and demand for those containers.”
It’s just one of the many coronavirus disruptions helping to keep U.S. agricultural exports to China from expanding faster after the two countries signed the “phase one” trade pact.
Foods banks: Stimulus buys not enough
Congress has provided $600 million in the last two COVID-19 relief bills for emergency food purchases, but food banks say it’s not enough given the needs triggered by the pandemic.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Feeding America’s chief government relations officer, Kate Leone, is asking for another $1 billion — $500 million for food purchases under the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and $500 million for storage and distribution.
The group also is backing a 15% increase in SNAP benefits that congressional Democrats are pushing.
Keep in mind: The network of more than 200 food banks says “20% of food banks are concerned about running out of food in the next two to four weeks. Forty-five percent will distribute all TEFAP food on hand within the next four weeks.”
For more on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a look at U.S.-China trade and the latest analysis of campaign contributions from ag interests, check out this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter or go to Agri-Pulse.com.
She said it. “Biofuel producers and our farm partners are confronting an economic crisis beyond anything rural America has seen before.” – Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor.
Bill Tomson, Ben Nuelle and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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