Top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow, tells Agri-Pulse she’s monitoring the farm economy and USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to see what additional help may be needed. 

Stabenow said she’s watching “what is happening to farmers as well as what is happening to families and food access.”

She’s optimistic about getting the Food Supply Protection Act that she introduced last week included in the next big aid package, given that the bill has the support of numerous ag groups. The $8 billion FSPA includes funding for protective gear for farmworkers and processing plant employees as well as funding to facilitate the distribution of surplus commodities.

For more on the bill, plus the latest on how U.S.-China relations are impacting American producers be sure and read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter. 

Take note: Two thirds of farmers believe more CFAP payments will be necessary, according to the latest monthly Purdue/CME Group survey of producer sentiment. 

More than 70% of the farmers surveyed are either very worried or fairly worried about pandemic’s impact on their farm’s profitability this year. Some 81% of the farmers surveyed in May said they were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the ethanol industry. 

By the way: Without special government aid, a Kansas State University analysis projects net income for the average farm could plunge to just $14,358 this year, down from $110,380 in 2019. That analysis doesn’t account for USDA’s new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments. Signup started last week.

Wheat, egg producers seek CFAP payments

The National Association of Wheat Growers is asking USDA to reconsider denying CFAP payments to several classes of wheat, including hard red winter and soft red winter.

USDA determined CFAP eligibility on whether the price of a particular commodity had dropped by at least 5% between mid-January and mid-April. NAWG argues in a letter to USDA that the department should have also considered price volatility during that three-month period. 

Iowa’s senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and Gov. Kim Reynolds, the state’s governor, are asking USDA to make egg producers eligible for payments. Although prices for shell eggs spiked as the pandemic took hold, markets for liquid egg products collapsed. Iowa is by far the nation’s largest egg producer. 

China buys US soy, eases uncertainty

The fact that the USDA announced Tuesday that Chinese buyers purchased another 132,000 metric tons of U.S. soybeans for delivery in the 2020-21 marketing year is a good sign that trade continues amid rising tensions between the two countries, says U.S. Soybean Export Council CEO Jim Sutter.

Still, uncertainty remains about the future of trade as ties between the U.S. and China fray over Hong Kong and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns flared after recent reports that Chinese buyers were purchasing Brazilian soybeans at a premium.

“We’ve been working for 40 years in China to develop a long-term relationship with importers and stakeholders,” Sutter said. “We want to get back to working on that long-term relationship … Unfortunately, with all this uncertainty, it makes it extremely transactional and the opposite sort of relationship than we want to have.”

CDC, OSHA recommend protections for farmworkers

The CDC and OSHA have issued joint guidance for protecting agricultural workers form the coronavirus. 

One of the key recommendations is to assign workers to groups and keep them together in order to minimize their contact with other employees. Doing so not only minimizes contact between employees, but also minimizes the number that have to be quarantined when there is an outbreak. 

To the same end, workers who reside together should be transported together and assigned to the same work groups, according to the guidance. 

The guidance also recommends that ill workers be kept away from livestock: “Since we don’t know for sure which animals can be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, sick workers should stay away from animals, including livestock and pets, during their illness.” USDA reported Tuesday that a dog (a pet German shepherd in New York) had tested positive in the U.S. for the first time. The dog is expected to recover. 

Roundup appeal closely watched as settlement nears

Lawyers for Monsanto and the first person to win a multimillion-dollar verdict for Roundup exposure made their cases before California appellate judges Tuesday at a crucial moment in negotiations over a possible $10 billion settlement for all Roundup plaintiffs.

Parent company Bayer is reportedly ready to ink a deal covering some 50,000 plaintiffs who allege Roundup exposure caused their cancers. But how appellate courts rule on judgments that have already gone against Bayer — or how observers think the courts will rule — will likely figure in the calculations of lawyers on both sides.

In this case, it wasn’t clear how the three judges of California’s First Appellate District will rule. But they did spend some time debating whether Dewayne Johnson should have been awarded $33 million in future noneconomic damages.

Monsanto’s lawyer argued that $1.5 million made more sense since Johnson’s life expectancy at the time of the 2018 trial was one and a half years. Johnson, who’s still alive, has received nothing so far.

Industry: New sanitizer regs still too restrictive

Ethanol industry groups are glad to see clearer guidance from the Food and Drug Administration released Monday on producing hand sanitizer.

But RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper is calling new interim limits for certain impurities to produce hand sanitizer a roadblock for producers who could supply huge volumes ethyl alcohol to manufacturers.

Cooper argued the interim limits are “eight times more restrictive than what is typically found in a glass of wine.”

Typically a glass of wine has 300-500 parts per million of acetaldehyde, he says. The new guidance has a 50-ppm limit on the acetaldehyde content in ethanol. 

She said it. “Lord knows, our farmers have been hit for the last few years on a chaotic trade policy, they’re constantly battling the horrible weather events, and then to have COVID-19 on top of it is just unbelievable.” – Sen. Debbie Stabenow, top Democrat on the Senate Ag Committee. 

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