May 5, 2020

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With reopening, Newsom throws Hail Mary to flower growers
During his daily press conference yesterday, Gov. Newsom said the state plans to ease its stay-at-home order later this week to allow for some curbside retail businesses to reopen, including florists.
This may be a last-minute lifeline for cut flower growers ahead of Mother’s Day weekend. The industry is “teetering on economic devastation,” said the head of the state flower commission in March as the impacts of the lockdown began to sink in. Without more people buying flowers, “farmers, wholesale distributors, retail designers and all the people who work in those businesses cannot survive,” he added.
The industry has been struggling under trade impacts in recent years. Imports from Holland, Ecuador and Colombia have grown to account for about 80% of the U.S. market.
On Thursday, the state will release more details on its “Stage 2” guidelines. Some manufacturing businesses will also be included in the new order.
The change in policy comes as a growing number of rural counties with low infection rates have pushed back on the administration, going as far as reopening some businesses. Newsom is now choosing a more diplomatic path in his decision, allowing some regional variation in the reopening, “but only after self-certification of particular criteria” for testing, contact tracing and other health indicators.  
Keep in mind: Dine-in restaurants and offices will be part of a separate Stage 2 opening in the coming weeks.

Capitalize on strength of agriculture, says Newsom’s Future of Work Commission
Gov. Newsom launched a commission last year to explore solutions to labor challenges in the gig economy, among many other socioeconomic issues. Now the commission has delivered its first update, at a time when the pandemic has forced the state and nation to rethink the value of an essential workforce.
“In many ways, the future of work has already arrived, and it is time to meet the moment,” write the commission chairs in the new report.
Among the 12 areas to further explore, the commission recommends focusing on the state’s strengths in industries like agriculture. This will “reinvigorate innovation and generate more jobs in fast-growing sectors.” The report also calls for addressing the impacts of climate change on workers, such as with heat stress on farmworkers.
The commission promises to deliver lessons learned from the workforce disruption caused by COVID-19 and to better prepare food, agriculture and other frontline industries for future crises.

SBA announces grants, loans available to farms
The door’s open. For the first time, the Small Business Administration is taking applications from farms for grants of up to $10,000 and low-interest loans through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
After lobbying by ag groups, farms were made eligible for EIDL in the coronavirus relief bill enacted last month. Businesses can get a grant, or “advance,” for $1,000 per worker up to a maximum of $10,000.
RJ Karney of the America Farm Bureau Federation says that many state Farm Bureaus and their members had been eagerly watching the SBA website to see when signup would begin. The announcement finally came Monday.
Farm Credit associations have been advising borrowers to consider the program, said Mark Hayes, a spokesman for the Farm Credit Council.
By the way: Hayes says signup of the Paycheck Protection Program has been going more smoothly since the SBA system was initially overwhelmed by applications a week ago. Moreover, the agency’s “efforts to meter each lending institution's daily number of applications seems to have helped many Farm Credit institutions access the system more consistently.”
AFBF’s Karney says SBA’s current effort to steer PPP to smaller lenders theoretically should ensure that more rural applicants get accepted.
Congress getting more appeals for commodity support
The full Senate is back in action after a five-week hiatus, and farm groups are laying out requests for CARES 2, the next big coronavirus relief program.
Dairy processors are asking Congress to make dairy products eligible for resource loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency. The dairy program would be authorized for two years and loans would be available on a 120-day rolling basis. But commodities put under recourse loans, as opposed to non-recourse loans, can’t be forfeited to USDA.
The loans would allow “processors to secure credit against their inventory, ensuring these job creators have the working capital needed to make it through this crisis,” according to a letter the International Dairy Foods Association has started circulating on Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile: The National Chicken Council has asked for direct assistance to the industry be included in the next stimulus package, and also is backing some financial assistance for frontline industry workers, says spokesman Tom Super.
Eighteen senators led by Delaware Democrat Chris Coons are appealing for assistance to chicken producers. In a letter to Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, the senators say the “impacts of COVID-19 on the chicken industry are becoming more serious and visible as the disease continues to spread throughout the United States.
Strawberries, dairy among new USDA purchases
USDA has announced $470 million in new commodity purchases, including $120 million dairy products and $35 million in strawberries.
The Agricultural Marketing Service is using its Section 32 authority to also buy cherries, sweet potatoes, asparagus, pears, orange juice, dairy, prunes, strawberries and raisins, among others.
He said it:
“This is an optimistic day, as we see a little ray of sunshine on the horizon.” – Gov. Newsom, in announcing some businesses will be reopening Friday.

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

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