Senate Republicans should start learning more about their leadership’s proposed new coronavirus relief package, which is expected to total about $1 trillion. 

At a White House meeting Monday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would start “socializing” GOP members on the package, which he made clear would include liability protections for businesses to shield them from coronavirus-related lawsuits. “We don’t need an epidemic of lawsuits,” he said. 

He said Republicans also would be talking to Democrats.

Pressure’s on: Leaders of the National Pork Producers Council told reporters Monday that hog farms need “open-ended” relief in the form of payments for euthanized or donated hogs as well as for market losses. 

Anti-hunger advocates tried to flood Senate offices on Monday with calls appealing for a 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. SNAP is one of the issues expected to be in play during the negotiations, according to GOP Sen. John Hoeven, who chairs the Senate Ag Appropriations Subcommittee. 

Rural electric cooperatives are asking Congress to include a provision in the coronavirus relief package eliminating a prepayment penalty on their Rural Utility Service loans. NRECA says refinancing RUS loans at lower interest rates would enable the average co-op to save $2 million a year. 

Take note: Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., says she understands USDA will soon complete its investigations into alleged cattle market price manipulation during the pandemic and following the Tyson Foods plant fire in 2019.

CFAP payments top $6B

USDA has now paid out $6.2 billion in payments under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, the department says in its latest weekly report.  

Cattle and hog producers continue to account for half the payments. Some $2.7 billion has been paid out for beef cattle and $394 million for hogs. Payments for dairy producers so far total $1.3 billion. Corn growers have received $1.1 billion. 

Iowa continues to lead the nation in total payments with $652 million so far, and Nebraska is a distant second at $460 million.

Peterson: Farmers getting used to payments

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson says he’s becoming concerned that “farmers are going to get used to” special payments like CFAP and the Market Facilitation Program before it. 

“I think there’s potentially going to be a (public) backlash because of these huge payments,” he said in an interview with the National Milk Producers Federation

He says he’s been proven right that the 2018 farm bill was inadequate, but that there is no funding source for improving commodity programs. “It’s the best we can do at the present time. We’ll just have to see where we’re at when the next farm bill comes up,” he said. 

Food Boxes at the Houston Food Bank. (USDA)

Lawmakers put focus on Food Boxes

Senior USDA officials will likely face some tough questions today at a House Agriculture Committee hearing on the $3 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program.

Committee Democrat Chellie Pingree of Maine says she will raise concerns about how her state has been treated. No Maine distributors were included in the first round, and only 4% of funding under the program has gone to the Northeast.

Greg Ibach, USDA’s undersecretary for marketing regulatory programs, and Bruce Summers, administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, will be the lead witnesses at the hearing. 

Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, also will be testifying. He’s expected to talk about problems his food bank had with contractor CRE8AD8 (“Create a Date”), an event planning firm that received about $40 million in the first round of funding. 

USDA offering subsidies for livestock policies

USDA is offering a major new enticement to get cattle and hog producers to sign up for Livestock Gross Margin insurance. LGM-Cattle and Swine insurance will now come with premium subsidies, already a common feature of crop insurance. 

The subsidies will be based on the size of the deductible. For LGM-Cattle, the subsidy will range from 18% with no deductible up to 50% with a deductible of $70 or greater. For LGM-Swine, the subsidy will range from 18% with no deductible up to 50% with a deductible of $12 or more. 

Bayer loses Roundup appeal

A California appeals court has upheld a verdict against Bayer in the first case before a trial court that examined the question of whether Roundup causes cancer in humans.

A jury had awarded former school groundskeeper Dewayne Lee Johnson $289 million, including $250 million in punitive damages. The trial judge cut the punitive damages award to about $39 million, and the appellate court further reduced the overall award to $20.5 million based on Johnson’s life expectancy.

Bumper wheat crop in Australia seen boosting exports

 The long drought in Australia is over, and plentiful rains are expected to help farmers harvest a bumper wheat crop this year, according to USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service. FAS officials in Canberra are now forecasting that the Aussies will produce 27 million metric tons of wheat from the 2020-21 marketing year, a 78% increase from 2019-20.

The expected return to normal is also going to boost Australian wheat exports, providing renewed competition for U.S. farmers on the international market. Australian farmers are forecast to ship 17.5 million tons of their crop overseas in 2020-21, up from just 9.2 million tons in 2019-20.

The good growing weather is also benefitting Australian barley farmers, but the recent trade spat with China is expected to dampen export opportunities. China is hitting Australian barley with an 80.5% tariff.

US targets major Hong Kong apparel firm

The Changji Esquel Textile Co., a major cotton shirt producer with clients such as Nike, is one of 11 companies being hit by severe U.S. sanctions over involvement in Chinese “human rights violations and abuses” against the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group in China.

“Beijing actively promotes the reprehensible practice of forced labor and abusive DNA collection and analysis schemes to repress its citizens,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Monday.

U.S. cotton exports already suffered sharply this year after textile companies in China and elsewhere shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He said it. “It’s difficult to estimate the total damages from a hurricane, for example, when you’re still in it and that’s what’s happening here.” – John Newton, chief economist of the American Farm Bureau Federation, to Agri-Pulse on how rising COVID-19 cases across the country are affecting the farm economy. 

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