President Donald Trump will be joined by farm leaders at the White House today amid expectations that he will announce the release of $16 billion in coronavirus relief payments to producers. 

Farm groups are eager to see what the limits will be on payments to individual producers. The beef, pork and dairy sectors as well as specialty growers all argue that the levels originally under consideration – $125,000 per commodity and $250,000 for all commodities – were too low. 

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, is among the farm group leaders scheduled to appear with Trump. 

Jose Cil

PPP extension, liability relief planned

President Trump says he’s optimistic Congress will provide businesses with liability protection to block coronavirus lawsuits. Trump told a group of restaurant executives Monday that even though Democrats have resisted the liability provision, and didn’t include it in the stimulus bill passed by the House last week, “we’ll get it anyway.”

Jose Cil, CEO of Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Burger King and Popeyes, told Trump the protections are badly needed. “We’re going to see frivolous and unfounded lawsuits against restaurants and small business owners who are trying to do the right thing, to see their businesses open,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the industry execs that the White House is working with Congress on an extension of the eight-week period that small businesses have to spend proceeds from their Paycheck Protection Program loans. The loans can be forgiven as long as 75% of the proceeds are spent on payroll over the eight-week period. 

The industry leaders were united in asking for the eight-week limit to be extended to 24 weeks. 

Noteworthy: Will Guidara, a New York restaurateur representing the Independent Restaurant Coalition, told Trump that helping restaurants survive will also benefit the farmers who supply them. Restaurants support “a lot of other industries that rely on independent restaurants for their survival.”

US, UK set second round of trade talks

Hundreds of U.S. and U.K. negotiators wrapped up their first round of trade talks Friday and the two sides are planning to start again on June 15 in an effort to “accelerate” efforts to form a free trade agreement, British International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said Monday.

Improving conditions for agricultural trade, as reported by Agri-Pulse last week, were a focal point in the round of talks that just ended, and they are expected to be so again when the talks via videoconferencing restart in June.

The U.K. will retain all of the European Union’s onerous restrictions on U.S. farm commodities through the end of 2020, but the Trump administration is adamant that the British abandon policies such as geographic indications that seek to limit the use of food names like Asiago cheese.

Mexico opens borders to U.S. bison meat

Bison meat may not be common in Mexican dishes, but the country has officially opened its border to imports, and the National Bison Association is celebrating.

“This is a very positive development for the bison business,” said the group’s executive director, Dave Carter. “The Mexican marketplace offers a growth opportunity for our business. Additionally, many consumers in Mexico tend to favor cuts of meat that are not in high demand by U.S. customers, so this can help our marketers balance carcass utilization.”

Refiners snubbed at high court

The Supreme Court has declined to consider whether EPA must, under the Renewable Fuel Standard, regularly evaluate whether the law’s point of obligation should extend to blenders, not just to refiners and importers.

The court rejected a petition filed by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and Valero that raised the question of whether EPA must reconsider the point of obligation annually.

AFPM and Valero said they were disappointed by the decision. LeeAnn Johnson Koch, an attorney representing the Small Refiners Coalition, said “20% of the parties that control the decision whether to blend ethanol and biofuels are not ‘obligated’ to do so. This is what we hoped to change by adding blenders to the definition of ‘obligated party.’ ”

The court’s decision leaves in place a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision dismissing the lawsuit.

EPA faces lawsuit over Chesapeake Bay oversight

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation along with Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia plan to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce pollution limits in the bay’s TMDL.

The Total Maximum Daily Load, known as the bay’s “pollution diet,” is a blueprint to reduce nutrients flowing into the bay from Washington, D.C. and the six watershed states.

In its notice of intent, CBF says EPA has accepted watershed plans from New York and Pennsylvania “that do not provide reasonable assurance” that pollution reduction commitments for 2025 will be met, in violation of the TMDL’s “accountability framework.”

One of the plaintiffs on the CBF lawsuit is livestock farmer and former NRCS official Robert Whitescarver. “All jurisdictions need to do their fair share,” Whitescarver said.

Back atcha: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, announcing $6 million in grants to bay states to combat nitrogen runoff from farms, said “from what we can tell, the claims have no merit.” 

Take note: Wheeler is scheduled to testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday.

FCC releasing procedures for broadband auction

The Federal Communications Commission is expected today to release draft procedures of a $16 billion rural broadband auction. The procedures are for the first phase of the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a 10-year, $20 billion plan to expand high-speed internet service. 

The commission is expected to vote on the procedures June 9.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for the commission to continue its work to ensure that all Americans have access to high-speed broadband as soon as possible,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. 

The first phase of RDOF allocates funding to providers who offer minimum internet speeds of 25 megabits per second upload and 3 megabits per second download in wholly unserved areas.

USDA expands biochem aid

USDA has finalized a rule to expand the production of renewable chemicals and biobased manufactured products. For the first time, companies, farmer cooperatives and other entities can get Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program loans even if they don’t produce advanced biofuels. 

The program could benefit industrial biotechnology companies, 

He said it. “By the third quarter, we’re going to be looking at unemployment reports that are astonishing good.” – Restaurateur Will Guidara, assuring President Trump that the restaurant industry is poised to come back in the last half of the year. 

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