July 27, 2020
Newsom boosts housing for infected ag workers
Gov. Newsom on Friday announced state support for constructing temporary isolation housing for COVID-positive agricultural workers who are asymptomatic.
The program, Housing for Harvest, was inspired by an initiative in Monterey County by the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California. Association members had joined together to build new housing and procure hotel rooms, and to set up a clinic with onsite testing.
“We're going to build on that,” said Newsom in a press conference. “I want to thank the ag industry. They've been very supportive of that program.”
Though few details have been shared, the governor described the program as expanding isolation spaces on the Central Coast, while also focusing on farmworkers in the Central Valley and the Imperial Valley.
Expanding paid sick leave and workers’ compensation: Newsom vowed to work with the Legislature to make his earlier executive orders more lasting. In doing so, he is pivoting away from the top-down policy approach that earned him criticism earlier in the pandemic.
Adding more teeth to Cal/OSHA: The governor said he will be working with lawmakers to bolster labor agencies and more swiftly target and close investigations in high-risk industries.
The administration has also released an “employer playbook” as a guide to cleaning worksites and reducing risk.
House passes bill on fixing Friant-Kern Canal
The Democrat-controlled House approved a package of fiscal 2021 spending bills Friday. One of those bills included more than $200 million for repairing the Friant-Kern Canal, the Delta-Mendota Canal and other key conveyance infrastructure in the San Joaquin Valley.
Fresno Democrat TJ Cox was excited to share that another measure of his, to fund safe drinking water projects in the valley, passed as well. Cox was also pushing for $1 million in funding for USDA research stations, including the Parlier station, which focuses on pests and diseases in specialty crops.
The package also included a measure to make California eligible for federal aid for combating nutria infestations, an effort championed by Democratic Rep. Josh Harder of Turlock.
Keep in mind: The GOP-controlled Senate has yet to start working on its version of the spending bills.
On that note: Western Growers has been reaching out to congressmembers to pass a similar measure on funding canal repairs in the Senate. Calif. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has introduced a bill that would authorize $600 million in funding for water infrastructure in the valley. Along with repairing canals, it would dedicate $200 million to environmental restoration projects on the San Joaquin River.
Senate GOP set to unveil aid package
After several days of delay, Senate Republicans today are supposed to take the wraps off their $1 trillion coronavirus relief package. The release of the proposal will allow negotiations to move forward with congressional Democrats, but there is a long way to go before a new package will be ready for President Donald Trump’s signature.
The Senate GOP plan is expected to include $20 billion in farm relief.
Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, raised the possibility Sunday that Congress could pass the next aid package on a piecemeal basis, with the most urgent issues being addressed first. Whether Democrats would agree to that is another question.
For more about the GOP plans, read our Washington Week Ahead, and watch Agri-Pulse.com for updates on the aid package.
Don’t Miss: Our Agri-Pulse Open Mic interview with Gary Adams, president and CEO of the National Cotton Council.
Hemp growers get win in House
The Democratic-controlled House has passed a package of four fiscal 2021 spending bills that include a provision to help struggling hemp producers. The legislation would allow hemp pilot programs to continue in operation through next September. States currently have until October to get approved regulatory plans into place.
The provision, while welcome, still doesn’t address most of the underlying concerns of hemp growers about USDA provisions in place for the 2021 growing season, according to Eric Steenstra, president of the advocacy group Vote Hemp.
His group has been pushing to extend the pilot program for two more years so growers don’t have to meet a stringent THC limit on hemp included in a USDA interim final rule published in October – among other reasons.
Many growers were forced to destroy crops last year because their hemp tested above 0.3% for THC.
The Agricultural Marketing Service has already approved dozens of state and tribal plans, and it’s not clear how they would be able to scrap those plans.
By the way: The FY21 minibus, which passed the House on a near party-line vote on Friday, includes funding for USDA, FDA, EPA and the Interior Department. The House takes up a bill this week that includes funding for the Army Corps of Engineers as well as the Transportation and Labor departments.
Trump assailed for China trade remark
President Trump’s trade war with China cost U.S. farmers severely, so when Trump suggested last week that the “phase one” trade deal meant “much less” to him now, Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos pounced on it. Bustos leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is charged with keeping Democrats in the House majority.
“When President Trump was candidate Trump, he stood behind a podium and promised to end the war on our farmers,” Rep. Bustos said. “Yesterday, after they have endured financial uncertainty, declining market shares and a precarious outlook, the president again stood behind a podium, and told our farmers that their future ‘means much less’ to him.”
China promised to ramp up imports of U.S. farm commodities in the trade pact, though many believe the Chinese won’t reach the goal of $36.5 billion set for calendar year 2020. To help the farm trade flow, China began waiving some tariffs on soybeans, corn, wheat and other commodities in March.
Trump, in a press conference Thursday, repeated his accusations that China allowed COVID-19 to spread to the U.S. and said that as a result the “trade deal means less to me now than it did when I made it.”
Where did the OJ go?
People around the world aren’t drinking less orange juice, but world production is plunging this year, USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service reports. Production is declining sharply in the U.S., as well as Europe, Brazil and Mexico.
Worldwide production of frozen concentrated orange juice is expected to drop by 23% and the reason is relatively straight forward. Farmers just aren’t producing as many oranges as they normally do. In Brazil, the orange harvest fell 19% this year, primarily because it’s just an off year – known as an alternate bearing phenomenon. In Mexico, a drought cut orange production nearly in half. And in the U.S., citrus greening continues to plague Florida’s groves.
U.S. FCOJ production is expected to drop this year by 10%.
She said it:
"The president’s comments were a slap in the face to the American farmer.” — Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., referring to President Trump’s comment that the “phase one” trade deal means less to him in the wake of the pandemic
Bill Tomson, Ben Nuelle and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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