House Democrats are focused this week on finishing their proposal for the next coronavirus relief bill, and farm groups and their allies in Congress are working to get priorities addressed in whatever Phase 4 package reaches the president’s desk.

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and other senior Democrats on the panel say the package needs to include $250 billion for COVID-19 testing and prioritize workers in food processing and agriculture as well as first responders and health-care providers. 

"Without testing in every community, we will face painful and expensive setbacks as we work to reopen our economy,” the lawmakers say

Pork: Fourteen senators are asking House and Senate leaders to cover the cost of euthanizing pigs that can’t be sent to slaughter because of the slowdown in processing plants. If 20% of processing capacity remains idle, 400,000 animals per week will have to be disposed of, the senators say in a letter

Given the “significant social and economic consequences, we must prioritize funding to indemnify producers who are depopulating herds due to processing plant closures,” the letter says.

Biofuels: Several farm and biofuel groups sent a letter to House and Senate leaders asking for direct financial assistance for the ethanol and biodiesel industries. “It is vital that the next COVID-19 relief package include immediate, temporary, and direct assistance to help the U.S. biofuel industry retain its skilled workforce,” the letter says. 

Keep in mind: In an open letter to her Democratic colleagues, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is urging them to “think big” when it comes to what’s in the CARES 2 package. Noting the soaring unemployment rate, she said:

 “These numbers require action that we have never had to take before. This is an historic challenge and therefore momentous opportunity for us to meet the needs of all Americans,” she said. 

Return of the (other) CCC?

Over in the Senate, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden is proposing to re-create something like the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corp. to address environmental challenges and prevent forest fires. 

Wyden’s 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act would provide $9 billion for a land and conservation corps to restore public lands and watersheds. Another $3.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service and $2 billion for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management would pay for thinning and hazardous fuel reduction efforts in forests. 

Senate committee puts focus on liability protection

The Senate Judiciary Committee will examine the issue of business liability and COVID-19 in a hearing today.

Businesses and farms have been pushing for a “liability shield” to protect them from COVID-related lawsuits, and the issue has become a sticking point between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Among those testifying is Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, who has said worker safety must come first. 

Take note: UFCW reported Monday that at least 30 meatpacking workers have died of COVID-19 so far and that at least 30 plants have closed in the past two months. 

COVID-19 causes acreage reporting problems

The COVID-19 pandemic has become challenging for acreage reporting at USDA Farm Service Agency offices, according to a memo to state and county agencies.

Since the agency is delivering programs over the telephone and through the mail, the agency has revised its policy for 2020 and 2021 acreage reporting, acceptance of organic certificates after the acreage reporting date, and producer signatures. Among other things, the department is waiving the late-filing procedures for 30 days after the acreage report date in the 2020 crop year. 

WASDE to offer first glimpse of 2020/21 ending stocks

Grain traders are expecting 2019/20 ending stocks to rise but 2020/21 to be lower in the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report USDA is releasing today.

Allendale broker Nathan Cardwell tells Agri-Pulse traders are looking for “little bit of an increase” from April to May in corn, soybeans, and wheat for 2019/20 ending stocks, but a dip for 2020/21.  

 This is the first time this year traders will get to see USDA’s estimates for next year’s crop.

According to a Reuters poll of average analyst estimates, analysts are expecting 2020/21 corn ending stocks at 3.38 billion bushels, soybeans at 430 million bushels and wheat at 814 million bushels.  

Study: MFP cotton payments were inflated

The National Cotton Council is pushing back against a new paper that concludes payments to cotton growers in last year’s second round of the Market Facilitation Program were about 33 times greater than the estimated impact of the trade war.

“The authors’ implication of overcompensation was based on a comparison of USDA’s model with other modeling approaches,” NCC said. “In the case of cotton, the other studies acknowledged that their results were preliminary in nature and did not have the benefit of actual trade data.”

The paper by Kansas State economists also said that while helpful in the short term, payments may not make farmers whole in the long run. The payments won't “compensate for long‐term losses in market access that could occur even if the U.S. reaches a trade deal with China and tariffs are removed.”

The “phase one” trade deal between the two countries, under which China is supposed to buy $80 billion on U.S. farm goods in 2019 and 2020, was announced after the manuscript was submitted. But NCC said “the timing and quantity of additional Chinese purchases is highly uncertain given the market disruptions created by the COVID‐19 outbreak.”

Ethanol groups cry foul over Colombian duties

 Growth Energy, the U.S. Grains Council, and the Renewable Fuels Association all issued a joint statement of strong opposition Monday in response to news that Colombia will begin hitting U.S. ethanol with new countervailing duties.

“While we have cooperated fully with investigating authorities in Colombia to demonstrate these final duties are unjustified, the Colombian government sided with Colombia’s ethanol industry,” the three U.S. groups said.

After lifting a restriction on fuel-grade ethanol in 2017, Columbia has been a strong importer from the U.S. as it worked to increased blending rates for gasoline.

He said it. “A bill has come due. It's not a question of punishing them, it's a question of holding China accountable, the Chinese Communist Party accountable.” – White House trade adviser and China hawk Peter Navarro in an interview on CNBC's Squawk Box.

President Trump has said recently he is considering hitting China with new tariffs and feels “differently” about the “phase one” trade deal.