More than 150 farm groups are asking Congress to cover a budget shortfall for the inspectors charged with keeping plant and animal pests out of the country.

In a letter Monday to the congressional appropriations committees, the groups say the drop in cargo imports and international travel have dramatically reduced collections of the user fees that fund Customs and Border Protection Agriculture Quarantine Inspection at U.S. ports of entry. The shortfall is estimated to total $630 million through fiscal 2021. 

“It is inconceivable that Congress would risk widespread damage to U.S. agriculture and the overall economy by not funding these inspections,” the National Pork Producers Council and other organizations say in the letter.

Traders expect drop in corn acres

USDA will be releasing today its widely anticipated annual Acreage report, which will detail how much farmers planted this spring of each major commodity. 

Traders are expecting the report, which is based on a survey of farmers, to show growers planted fewer acres of corn than previously estimated. Analyst Mike Pearson with Zaner Ag Hedge tells Agri-Pulse the lower expectation is due to late planting issues in the Dakotas.

“Those places are waterlogged,” Pearson said. “We’re still talking to growers who have just recently completed combining the 2019 crop. So, suffice to say, that’s corn they probably intended to plant in March that is not in the ground.”

The average trade guess for corn plantings is 95.2 million acres. USDA estimated in March that farmers would plant 97 million acres, which would be an 8% increase from 2019. Zaner is predicting a drop to 94.5 million acres.

The firm expects soybean acres to be a million acres higher than the March estimate. 

CFAP payments top $4.8 billion

COVID-19 relief payments to farmers are starting to go out at a little slower pace. In its weekly report on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, USDA said it had distributed $4.86 billion so far, or about $851 million over the past week. USDA made more than $1 billion in payments the week of June 15. Payments for cattle, hogs and sheep account for half the total payments. 

Iowa farmers continue to lead the nation with $514 million in total payments, more than 10% of the amount distributed nationally.

Keep in mind: An agricultural economist says the full impact of the pandemic on farm income won’t be known until later in the year as the new crop starts hitting the market amid a continued slowdown in demand. 

“I don’t think the book is closed on COVID effects in the row crop sector,” said John Anderson of the University of Arkansas. The major impacts “may actually be down the road.” 

Anderson was one of several ag economists who authored a study released Monday looking at the economic impacts of COVID-19 on the agriculture sector.

Liability protections remain Senate focus

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is making clear that business liability protections will be a key focus of the next coronavirus relief bill that the Senate considers, likely in July. 

Senate Republicans “are putting together strong legal protections for health care professionals, K-12 schools, colleges and universities and employers so our recovery is not promptly swamped by a second epidemic of frivolous lawsuits,” McConnell said Monday. 

He didn’t provide any new information on the Senate’s timetable, saying only that Republicans are taking a “substantive, serious, facts-first approach” to the legislation.

UK to set up ag trade commission amid US talks

The British government has bowed to concerns from U.K. farmers and lawmakers and agreed to set up a commission to advise trade negotiators on agricultural policy issues during trade talks with the United States.

The commission will be tasked with focusing on preventing the undermining of British farm production standards and protecting “consumer interests,” according to a letter from U.K. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss to the U.K.’s National Farmers’ Union.

It’s yet another sign that British negotiators will be reluctant to relinquish European-style ag restrictions that ban most U.S. beef and chicken. Truss has already made it clear that the U.K. will not be willing to accept beef from cattle raised with growth hormones or chicken that has been treated with antimicrobial rinses.

U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer recently brushed off British criticism of U.S. ag production standards. “We either have fair access for agriculture or we won’t have a deal with (the U.K. or the EU), Lighthizer told the House Ways and Means Committee.

Next round for Roundup lawsuits

A federal judge has set a hearing for July 23 on the question of whether to approve a class of potential future Roundup litigants, a controversial element of the $10 billion-plus settlement that Bayer announced last week.

The proposed class would include people who have been exposed to Roundup but may or may not have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. One of the purposes of the $1.25 billion set aside for the class would be to provide diagnoses for the class members. Attorney fees are set at $150 million.

Attorneys for the potential class argued in a court filing last week that “the tragic reality” is that many of the individuals in the proposed class “are agricultural workers living in rural areas who may have limited or no English skills and are less likely to even be aware of the Roundup controversy.”

A science panel chosen by the parties would be set up to answer the question of whether there is a causal connection between Roundup and NHL. If such a connection isn’t established, the class members will be barred from claiming otherwise in any future lawsuits against Bayer, the company says.

Senate Dems appeal for aid for broadband bills

A Senate bill backed by 26 Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders would authorize spending of $8.8 billion to fund broadband service for low-income households or for those who have lost their jobs or been furloughed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Emergency Broadband Connections Act would provide a $50/month benefit to maintain high-speed internet connections, which the sponsors of the bill said is critical given that the Federal Communications Commission’s voluntary Keep Americans Connected pledge ends today.

More than 800 companies have signed the FCC pledge not to terminate service or impose late fees on to people who can’t pay. The Center for Rural Strategies and Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition have endorsed the bill, which “parallels provisions of the House HEROES Act” and the Emergency Broadband Connections Act introduced by Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas.

They said it: “Foreign pests and diseases, such as African swine fever, which has killed more than one out of every four pigs globally, would have a devastating effect on American agriculture if they reached our shores.” – Farm groups in the letter seeking funding for the inspector budget shortfall. 

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher (