Commodity groups are applauding USDA for moving forward with the new $16 billion coronavirus relief program. But many groups say the payments won’t be nearly as large as they need to be and are renewing their appeals to Congress for additional funding. 

“We understand the resource and policy constraints that have been placed on USDA and the administration and will work closely with Congress on implementing a stronger and more effective program in the next round of discussion with Capitol Hill,” said Tom Stenzel of the United Fresh Produce Association. 

Bill Northey, USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation, tells Agri-Pulse the program is designed only to cover losses on 2019 crops, and he expects to be working on another version of the program down the road. 

It makes sense not to make 2020 crops eligible for CFAP while farmers are still planting, “but at some point, Congress is going to say there's an impact on 2020 crops,” he said. 

Northey’s also expecting a number of commodities to appeal for inclusion in the current program, which is part of the reason that USDA is going to prorate the initial round of payments. 

For more on the program, including a look at who’s in and who’s out, be sure and read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter.

Biden talks rural issues

Former Vice President Joe Biden will talk about rural policy issues today during a virtual roundtable with Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind. The event is set for 11 a.m. EDT. 

Trump’s cattle import ban at odds with USMCA

 Did President Donald Trump just take a step back on one of his biggest accomplishments in trade policy? 

The new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement keeps in place the North American Free Trade Agreement’s open borders for most farm commodities, but Trump appeared to challenge that Tuesday with a threat to terminate agreements that allow cattle imports into the U.S.

“I read yesterday where we take some cattle in from other countries because we have trade deals,” Trump said at a White House event to announce the CFAP payments. “I think you should look at terminating those deals. We have trade deals where we actually take in cattle, and we have a lot of cattle in this country, and I think you should look at the possibility of terminating those trade deals.”

Keep in mind: There was soft, but immediate pushback from National Cattlemen’s Beef Association CEO Colin Woodall. “Live cattle imports to the United States only come from Canada and Mexico and will continue to do so under the terms of the President’s newly negotiated USMCA.”

By the way: A Department of Agriculture spokesperson offered a statement to Agri-Pulse Tuesday night saying it is “critical” beef trade markets remain open. 

“President Trump always wants to make sure we are doing everything possible to help our farmers and ranchers succeed, so he is continually – and rightfully – making sure all our existing trade agreements work in their best interests,” the spokesperson added.

Groups laud strengthened US stand on food names

Several U.S. food and farm groups are applauding the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a new policy that strengthens the U.S. stance on allowing the use of  “geographic wording … that does not indicate geographic origin” for food names.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office essentially lays out the process and reasoning behind a producer being able to produce a product like a frankfurter without it necessarily being produced in Frankfurt.

Consortium for Common Food Names Director Jaime Castaneda, in a joint release from CCFN, the U.S. Dairy Export Council, National Milk Producers Federation, North American Meat Institute, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and American Farm Bureau Federation, says the new language “sets a global example for a system that fairly protects truly distinctive products and common name goods alike.”

Why it’s important: The European Union is waging a worldwide campaign to restrict the usage of food names that they call “geographical indications.” They want to stop companies in the U.S. and elsewhere from being able to use names like Asiago and Roquefort. 

EPW Chairman Barrasso

GOP senators to EPA: Lower biofuel mandates

The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Wyoming Republican John Barrasso, is asking EPA to agree with six governors and Renewable Fuel Standard blending obligations for 2020. 

“A failure to grant, in part or in whole, the governors’ petitions would render this provision within the Clean Air Act utterly meaningless,” he and other GOP colleagues say in a letter to EPA. 

Barrasso will get a chance to raise the issue directly with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler when he testifies before the committee today.

The governors argue that the cost of complying with the RFS has tripled since Jan. 2.

EPA mulls requiring public input on guidance

EPA is proposing to require for the first time that the public has a chance to weigh in on the agency’s “significant guidance documents.”

proposed rule developed by the agency includes a broad definition of “significant,” ensuring public comment on virtually all EPA guidance.

“Guidance documents come in a variety of formats, including interpretive memoranda, policy statements, manuals, bulletins, advisories, and more,” EPA said.

Mark Ryan, an environmental lawyer in Washington and former attorney at EPA, says in a blog post that the proposal could affect the Clean Water Act. The agency’s Rapanos guidance “set the test for CWA jurisdiction for 12 years,” he notes. 

“The big take-aways,” he said, “are the new need to go through public notice and comment and a new provision to allow the public to petition EPA to withdraw or modify existing guidance documents. This is going to create a huge new workload for EPA, and will likely lead to new avenues for litigation.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin

Democrats appeal for ag input on climate policy

The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis is reaching out to the agricultural community to see what kind of help farmers need to address temperature extremes, drought and other consequences of the warming climate.

In a letter to rural and ag stakeholders, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and other members of the special committee ask who is best equipped to deliver technical assistance to farmers. They also want to know the “key barriers” to adoption of the most promising practices to improve resiliency and sequester carbon.

The letter asks for responses by June 19. 

Vilsack: Dairy less vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks

As the nation watches meatpacking plants slowly come back online after COVID-19 outbreaks, top dairy leaders don’t see the dairy processing system having the same challenges.

“The dairy industry, because of the way in which it has automated and improved and modernized its processing operations, is less vulnerable and a bit more resilient,” said Tom Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council President and a former agriculture secretary.

The dairy processing system could be used as a model moving forward as other ag processors look for ways to prevent a pandemic from stopping production again, he said. 

He said it. “You can go back to Abraham Lincoln, there's no president that's treated the farmers like Trump.” – President Donald Trump, announcing the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program on Tuesday.

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