Because of the federal holiday on Friday, Daybreak will return on Monday, July 6

Round Two begins for Food Boxes

USDA is heading into the second round of its Farmers to Families Food Box program, a major part of the Trump administration’s effort to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food supply chain and hungry Americans. Some 27.5 million boxes have been delivered so far. That was well short of the goal of delivering 40 million in the first round, which ended Tuesday.

The Agricultural Marketing Service has dropped at least a couple of controversial choices from its list of contractors for the program. The second-round awards could reach $1.47 billion – extended contracts worth up to $1.27 billion to nearly 200 companies, and about $200 million in new contracts.

CRE8AD8 (“Create a Date”) is out. The San Antonio event planning firm, which had received the seventh-largest contract of the first round, had no experience in large-scale food distribution and listed companies as clients on its website even though it had never worked with them.

Also out: Yegg Inc., a California firm that had billed itself as a trade finance firm before winning a contract in May.

The new contracts went to 16 companies. Gold Star Foods in Ontario, Calif., received the largest at $90.4 million, and Military Produce Group received a contract worth $21.6 million.

House Democrats advance infrastructure wish list

The Democratic-controlled House passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that serves as a campaign blueprint for the party’s priorities in a wide number of areas, including renewable energy, schools and housing as well as water projects and surface transportation.  

The measure, which passed on a near party-line 233-188 vote, has no future in the Senate. The measure includes $100 billion in broadband funding that supporters are still pushing to get included in the next coronavirus relief package. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., chided Democrats for spending time on legislation he called “a cousin of the Green New Deal masquerading as a highway bill.”

But Dennis Slater, president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, said the bill “lays down a strong marker for much-needed, long-term investment in our nation’s infrastructure.”

Noted: House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson, who faces a tough re-election race in Minnesota, was one of two Democrats who voted against the bill. 

PPP to be resurrected, extended

It looks like businesses and farms will have more time to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program and its forgivable loans. The House gave final congressional approval Wednesday evening to a bill extending the application period to Aug. 8. The original deadline was Tuesday, but the Senate passed a bill that evening to allow more time for applications. 

By the way: Democrats used a House Small Business Committee hearing on Wednesday to question the administration’s decision to allow only farms for a time to apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. SBA official James Rivera said farms needed the exclusive application period because they hadn’t previously been eligible. 

Mexico’s AMLO to visit White House July 8

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, better known as AMLO, will be visiting the White House next week to celebrate the launch of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday.

The two leaders should have plenty to discuss. Many U.S. lawmakers and farm groups issued laudatory statements on USMCA Wednesday, but there is also growing concern that Mexico will have trouble living up to labor-reform promises and Canada will backtrack on pledges to open its market to more U.S. dairy products.

By the way. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has named the U.S. members of key panels that will help resolve disputes and enforce labor requirements under the USMCA, which officially replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement on Wednesday.

“The USMCA is the gold standard by which all future trade agreements will be judged, and its enforcement will be a key part of its success,” Lighthizer said. He stressed that the pact “has the strongest labor enforcement provisions ever written into any U.S. trade agreement and will help to level the playing field for American workers.”

USDA pressed on organic livestock rule

Two Democrats, Chellie Pingree of Maine and Anthony Brindisi of New York, have joined Republican Dan Newhouse of Washington in asking Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to finalize the National Organic Program’s Origin of Livestock rule. It is aimed at stopping farms from shifting herds between organic and conventional production.

“As you know, USDA issued a proposed rule to close the loopholes around the transitioning of conventual dairy cows into organic production in 2015, but the rule was never finalized,” the lawmakers say in a letter to Perdue.

“Failure to close this loophole has allowed some producers to continuously cycle cows in and out of organic management, putting smaller producers in states like ours at a significant financial disadvantage and placing the integrity of the organic label at risk.”

The Organic Trade Association has been pushing for the same thing for years. OTA notes that the proposal “specifies that organic dairy animals must be raised organically from the last third of gestation or be raised organically for one year if transitioning a conventional herd to organic, and further clarifies that this transition is allowed only once.”

Hemp checkoff planned

Two hemp industry groups have agreed to work on getting USDA approval for a checkoff program. USDA currently oversees 23 of the programs, which fund research and promotion activities. 

The Hemp Industries Association and the National Industrial Hemp Council will next form a working group with representatives from across the industry to discuss the details of how the checkoff would be structured and operate. A proposal would then be submitted to USDA with an industry analysis and justification for the program.

“It's through these types of collaborations that we learn together and establish a solid foundation for hemp today, and over the next decade,” said HIA President Rick Trojan.

Marshall builds ag group support in Kansas race

The Kansas Livestock Association is the latest farm group in the state to endorse Rep. Roger Marshall’s candidacy race for the Senate. Marshall first has to win the Aug. 4 GOP primary, which features Kansas’ controversial former secretary of state, Kris Kobach. 

The seat is being vacated by Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, who is retiring. 

KLA President Harry Moser told Agri-Pulse the state needs another senator with a strong track record supporting agriculture. “Growing up out in Great Bend there’s a lot of feedlots and agriculture around him, so he knows the importance of that for any of these rural towns,” Moser said.

The Kansas Farm Bureau among other ag groups also is backing Marshall. 

He said it. “There’s some pretty darn big shoes to fill.” - Kansas Farm Bureau President Richard Felts to Agri-Pulse, referring to the retiring Sen. Pat Roberts.

Steve Davies, Bill Tomson and Ben Nuelle contributed to this report. 

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