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 the 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 that 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 some of 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. 

Governor wants plan for Smithfield reopening

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem says she’s still waiting on a plan from Smithfield Foods for getting its huge Sioux Falls pork processing facility back in operations. Some employees reportedly returned to the facility Monday, but the company told Agri-Pulse in a brief statement saying the plant wasn’t in operation yet. 

Noem authorized the state health agency to conduct voluntary “mass testing” of workers at the plant, which is responsible for about 5% of U.S. pork production, and the governor said 

4,000 face shields and 20,000 masks would be available to Smithfield employees "within a matter of days.”


US, UK set to begin trade talks today

U.S. and U.K. negotiators will meet today via videoconference as they try to forge a free trade agreement that the U.S. ag sector hopes will open up the British market to poultry, pork and other commodities.

The fact that the U.K. is simultaneously negotiating an FTA with the European Union could complicate matters. While the EU wants the British to hold on to restrictions on biotechnology, growth hormones, ractopamine and peracetic acid rinses, U.S. negotiators will be insisting the U.K. abandon them.

During today’s teleconference, U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer will be talking to British International Trade Secretary Liz Truss. The talks are expected to continue on for two weeks and involve about 200 negotiators, according to a UK spokeswoman.

Trump resubmits USDA nomination 

The White House on Monday sent the Senate the re-nomination of Scott Hutchins to be USDA’s undersecretary for research, education and economics. Hutchins continues to serve as a deputy undersecretary at USDA, a position that doesn’t require Senate confirmation. 

Hutchins was originally nominated in 2018 but has never gotten a Senate vote. 

Newly emerged corn this week in west central Missouri

Late freeze threatens emerging crops

Cooler temperatures are expected to move into the northern and eastern Corn Belt later this week setting up the potential for a late freeze. USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey says the freeze will be a problem  where crops have emerged. 

“We’ll have to keep an eye on Minnesota where an awful lot of corn was planted in late April and early May,” Rippey tells Agri-Pulse.

Typical last freeze dates are around mid-April, he said. Some 8% of U.S. corn has emerged so far, compared to 5% last year.

By the way: Producers have planted 51% of the U.S. corn crop and 23% soybean crop according to USDA’s crop progress report Monday. These numbers are sharply higher from last year’s 21% and 5% respectfully.

Catfish, prunes among new USDA purchases

 USDA has announced $470 million in new commodity purchases that will include $30 million worth of catfish. 

“The coronavirus has depressed the market for catfish and other commodities, and (USDA) Secretary Perdue is right to exercise his power to use an existing program to purchase surplus food that can be directed toward food banks,” said Mississippi GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

The Agricultural Marketing Service is using its Section 32 authority to also buy potatoes, chicken, cherries, sweet potatoes, pork, asparagus, pears, orange juice, dairy, seafood, prunes, strawberries, turkey and raisins

He said it. “Until that confidence comes back it’s going to be very difficult to get labor willing to come into those plants.” - former USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber, saying that it will take time for meat processing plants back into full production once they’ve had a COVID-19 outbreak. Workers will be reluctant to re-enter the plants if they think they could get infected, he suggested.