A fresh round of assistance from the Small Business Administration should soon be available to farmers. 

On Thursday, the House is expected to clear an agreement to provide the Paycheck Protection Program with a fresh $320 billion. Farms also will be made eligible for SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans. EIDL provides recipients with what are essentially $10,000 grants, and businesses also can borrow up to $2 million. 

The Senate passed the $484 billion bill by unanimous consent on Tuesday. 

Keep in mind: The Farm Credit System is concerned the new funding for the PPP’s forgivable loans won’t last long. “The expectation around that is it will be maybe 72 hours – I don’t see it lasting four days at this point,” said Todd Van Hoose, CEO of the Farm Credit Council. 

Read a summary of the bill here

USDA aims to deliver, fast, on food assistance

USDA is pursuing an ambitious and novel plan to deliver household-size boxes of food around the country starting next month to deal with the surplus of meat, milk and produce on the market. 

Under the plan, which has hallmarks of Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue’s “Harvest Box” proposal, the boxes would be delivered to food banks and other non-profits and handed directly to needy recipients. Food banks often don’t have refrigeration and are now short of volunteers due to the COVID-19 crisis. Delivering the boxes directly to recipients is a way of dealing with those challenges. 

“We’re only going to purchase 100% domestically grown and processed products. … Our goal is to help the American farmer,” Dave Tuckwiller of the Agricultural Marketing Service said on a webinar about the program Tuesday. Some 3,800 people participated in the webinar. 

Delivery of boxes will start May 15 and run through the end of the year.

Take note: Harvest Boxes were supposed to substitute for part of a family’s cash SNAP benefits. The new food boxes won’t do that.

Perdue appearing before CFTC panel

Perdue will talk today to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s ag advisory committee in the wake of a pair of market-moving events.

In August, USDA began its investigation into the market practices that followed a fire at a beef packing plant in Holcomb, Kan. Last month, USDA announced it would expand that investigation to include similar circumstances following the U.S. outbreak of COVID-19.

USDA has oversight over cash markets while the CFTC regulates futures. 

CFTC Chairman Heath Tarbert said the agency’s livestock market task force “is monitoring activity around major, market-moving events, and will continue engaging experts, regulators, and market participants. Ensuring our markets are working for American agriculture is critical to fulfilling the CFTC’s mission during these challenging times.”

Chinese beef values complement U.S. preferences

U.S. exporters plan on selling plenty of ribeye steaks to China, but also a lot of cuts generally placed at a lower value by U.S. consumers like offals, heel muscle, shoulder clod, ribs and rounds, industry experts tell Agri-Pulse. That will be an extra benefit as the U.S. plans to ramp up exports to China now that the country has lifted key trade restrictions as part of the “phase one” trade deal.

“Things that don’t normally sell at a premium here in the U.S. will fetch a higher value in China,” says Kent Bacus, director of international trade and market access for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

U.S. Meat Export Federation economist Erin Borror says: “We also anticipate demand for omasum and other variety meats. Many of these items are also very popular in other Asian markets, with which China will continue to compete.” 

For more on China-beef trade as well as USDA’s COVID-19 relief plan, plus a look at issues challenging the ag sector amid the pandemic, be sure and read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter. 

Trump reassures farmers on H-2A

President Donald Trump is reassuring farmers that his temporary ban on immigration won’t affect their access to labor

The White House hasn’t officially confirmed that H-2A is exempt from the ban, but at the White House coronavirus briefing Tuesday evening, Trump said "the farmers will not be affected by this at all.”

Mexico sugar production seen recovering after drought

Last year was a rough one for Mexican sugar growers because of severe drought. But production is expected to rebound this year, as well as exports for the 2020-21 marketing year, which begins in October, according to USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service. 

Production, which fell to a seven-year low of 5.745 million metric tons (raw value) for MY 2019-20, is expected to reach 6.169 tons for 2020-21 now that rain is plentiful in five of the country’s biggest growing regions.

Mexico’s lack of sugar supplies was felt this year in the U.S. where weather also pushed down production. The USDA decided earlier this month to open the controlled U.S. sugar market to more foreign sugar and had to go outside Mexico to get it. USDA allowed in an extra 181,437 tons of refined sugar and 317,515 tons of raw sugar.

Appeals court questions EPA’s dicamba oversight

Two members of a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seemed receptive to arguments that EPA had not properly evaluated dicamba when it renewed its registration for two years at the end of 2018.

In a hearing Tuesday, the judges closely questioned attorneys for both sides in the dispute but made clear they were aware of the extent of damage to crops, mostly soybeans, in 2017 and 2018.

Circuit Judge William Fletcher, for example, mentioned “huge amounts of off-field damage” caused by the herbicide, approved for use in soybeans and cotton in 34 states. And Judge Margaret McKeown said “there’s a lot of evidence in the record that you can’t follow the label, even.”

Plaintiffs in the case, including the Center for Food Safety, argued EPA had not sufficiently characterized the risk of dicamba to crops, trees and shrubs, or on endangered species. 

Attorneys for EPA and Monsanto argued that EPA sufficiently studied the risks of the herbicide. Monsanto attorney Richard Bress warned that blocking the registration would create “chaos” in agriculture this year.

He said it. “The farmers haven't been treated fairly. The farmers have been treated terribly when it comes to the internet, so we're going to take care of that. We're going to make them very happy.” – President Trump at Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing. He didn’t elaborate. 

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