May 6, 2020
Survey: More than half of California’s farmers losing revenue
The results of a survey by the California Farm Bureau shows that 57% of farmers have been hit with lost customers or reduced sales due to the pandemic. About 40%, said they or a family member had lost off-farm income. More than half said they plan to apply for federal aid.
“There’s no aspect of farming, ranching or agricultural business that has been spared,” said CFBF President Jamie Johansson. "Most farm and ranch households count on off-farm income to supplement what they earn from agriculture.”
The survey spanned two weeks in April, with more than 500 farmers responding.
CDFA Secretary Karen Ross said the survey should catch people's attention for “how important off-farm income and benefit packages are to our farm families and how many jobs have been lost off-farm that will also contribute to the challenges in our rural communities.”
Silver lining: 75% of farmers said they have been able to maintain operations and avoid lay-offs.
On that note: One ag sector that has made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed – so far – is avocados. A new report from RaboResearch yesterday showed that despite 20% of the U.S. production going to food service, the fruit will experience modest growth this year due to a continued strong demand.
Ag is ‘well represented’ on Newsom’s economic task force
The State Board of Food and Ag learned some key details yesterday on how efforts have been progressing with Newsom’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery.
Almond Alliance President Elaine Trevino, who recently joined the task force, said several members put together an informal agriculture subcommittee. Each Friday, they hold a conference call with about 15 ag organizations to gather their perspectives on impacts to operations and employee issues. The list includes the Ag Council of California, Western Growers and the California Farm Bureau.
The task force has 10 formal committees broken down by topics like government and manufacturing. On the list for the operations committee is addressing the digital divide on rural broadband, as schools have pivoted to online instruction, according to board president Don Cameron, who is also on the task force.
Sec. Ross felt ag has an important role to play in the road ahead: “I really believe food and ag can help lead recovery,” she said. She leaned on the board for suggestions on policies or partnerships the task force could pursue.
“Quit reinventing the wheel,” urged UC ANR Vice President Glenda Humiston. She explained her frustration with the state’s Strategic Growth Council over passing up existing solutions in search of perfect answers.
Dennis Donohue, who leads the agtech center at Western Growers, pushed for workforce development: “Whatever the new economy is, it's going to demand more skills sooner than later,” he said. Donohue added the need for scaling up distribution for food banks.
For more on the hurdles in distributing to food banks, look for the Agri-Pulse West Newsletter later this morning.
Humiston presents on how COVID-19 has shocked the food system.
Valley Dems urge more health research for ag workers during COVID
California congressmen are asking Gov. Newsom and the National Institute of Health to prioritize funding for research into the potential effects of COVID-19 on essential workers in the food industry.
Reps. TJ Cox, Jimmy Panetta and Jim Costa called for more testing for farmworkers, farmers and employees at food processing plants. This would provide more information for assessing disease transmission among this population.
“We must act quickly before the virus devastates our rural health system,” said Cox in a statement.
Industry appeals for testing capability
Groups representing the food, agriculture and chemical sectors are asking Vice President Mike Pence to prioritize testing for member companies, saying that “the current inconsistencies in testing approaches from state to state and between localities have resulted in the need to downscale or shut down operations altogether.”
“If essential workers that are asymptomatic carriers for the COVID-19 virus are not identified through testing — particularly in communities with active transmissions — they may unknowingly infect those in their communities, including their fellow employees,” the groups say in their letter.
The groups warn that worker illnesses are “putting our stressed food supply in greater jeopardy.”
The groups include the American Bakers Association, Consumer Brands Association, National Grocers Association, National Restaurant Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the United Fresh Production Association.
Lawmakers look to boost USDA spending authority
The account USDA has been using to provide billions in direct payments to farmers would more than double to $68 billion under a bill introduced in the House. The CCC account has been capped at $30 billion since the 1980s. The CCC is essentially a revolving account that the department uses both to make routine commodity program payments as well as emergency payments.
Keep in mind: House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has made it clear that he won’t agree to an increase in the limit unless the leaders of the House and Senate Ag committees have a say in how the money is spent.
Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., introduced the bill along with Democrat Sanford Bishop, who chairs the House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee, and Republicans Dusty Johnson of South Dakota and Roger Marshall of Kansas.
Internet service fees eyed to expand rural broadband
A bipartisan bill introduced by House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson would add the Universal Service Fund fee on internet bills to help pay for expanding rural broadband. The USF fee is now limited to phone bills.
“It’s unacceptable that rural communities have limited, unreliable or worse yet no broadband access,” Peterson said.
The NTCA – Rural Broadband Association, National Farmers Union, and America Farm Bureau Federation all praised the bill.
Where’s the beef? Shortage hits chain with iconic slogan
The disruptions in U.S. meatpacking continue to ripple through supermarkets and now have reached Wendy’s, which once had one of the most famous retail slogans in America: “Where’s the beef?” The restaurant chain confirmed to Agri-Pulse Tuesday that beef was not on the menus in some of its locations.
She said it:
“I can hardly wait to go to a restaurant to eat good California food and to drink California wine with other people. I love my husband, but I can hardly wait for that social setting.” – California Ag Sec. Karen Ross
Steve Davies, Bill Tomson and Ben Nuelle contributed to this report.
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