We’ve been telling you for days that Senate Republicans want to give USDA maximum flexibility in how to do the next round of coronavirus relief. And that’s exactly what the new GOP proposal would do. 

The GOP bill authorizes $20 billion that can be used by farmers as well as processors “to prevent, prepare for, and respond” to the pandemic. The eligible commodities include “specialty crops, non-specialty crops, dairy, livestock and poultry, including livestock and poultry depopulated due to insufficient processing access and growers who produce livestock or poultry under a contract for another entity.”

Including “processors” among the eligible recipients would cover ethanol producers, a Senate aide says. 

What’s next: Senate Republicans now have to get a deal with congressional Democrats, and there is a long list of items to be negotiated. 

The top Democrat on the Senate Ag Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, declined to comment on the GOP ag provisions. But Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., says Stabenow’s “big ask” has been a 15% increase in SNAP benefits. 

Take note: The bill has a number of provisions making it easier for farms and other businesses to get forgiveness on Paycheck Protection Program loans. Loans of less than $150,000 can qualify for automatic forgiveness. 

Download the text of the ag provisions and other appropriations measures here and a summary of the Paycheck Protection Program provisions here.

CFAP total grows slowly, up 5% 

USDA has now paid out $6.55 billion, an increase of about $300 million, or about 5%, over the past week, according to the latest USDA data. With one month to the signup deadline, USDA is nowhere close to distributing the full $16 billion earmarked for the program. 

What’s with the slow pace? Pat Westhoff, who directs the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, says USDA is unlikely to pay out the full $16 billion at this pace. Westhoff says he isn’t sure why. “Possible explanations include difficulty in getting paperwork done given FSA constraints, less eligible production than anticipated, and impact of payment limitations, etc.,” he said in an email.

Cattle producers have received $2.9 billion so far, while dairy producers have received $1.3 billion. Among row crops, some $1.2 billion has been paid for corn and $331 million for soybeans. Hog producers have received $416 million. 

Iowa continues to lead the nation with $679 million. Nebraska is second at $484 million, followed by Minnesota ($420 million), Wisconsin ($384 million), Texas ($356 million), and California ($345 million).

(Delaware Ag Department)

NASDA warns of Chinese seed smuggling scheme

 Don’t plant the seeds! Don’t even open the package! That’s the warning from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture to people who are getting packages of seeds in the mail from China that they did not order.

“The seeds are sent in packages usually stating that the contents are jewelry. Unsolicited seeds could be invasive, introduce diseases to local plants, or be harmful to livestock,” the Washington State Department of Agriculture warned on a Facebook post. “This is known as agricultural smuggling. Report it to USDA and maintain the seeds and packaging until USDA instructs you what to do with the packages and seeds. They may be needed as evidence.”

State ag departments in Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Nevada and Alabama are all issuing similar warnings.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a statement that it is working with state ag departments and Customs and Border Protection “to prevent the unlawful entry of prohibited seeds and protect U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and noxious weeds.”

Could new advisers sway Boris Johnson on trade deal?

UK trade advisers to weigh ‘consumer interests’

The U.K. is launching a new trade and agriculture commission with an eye towards appeasing British farmers and citizens that continue to voice concerns over how the U.S. produces poultry and beef. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged that science would be the guiding principle as the U.S. and U.K. began to negotiate a free trade agreement. But the new commission, which will advise British negotiators, throws a new wrench into the process.

Tim Smith, chairman of the new commission, said he will take into consideration what he believes is fair to British consumers while advising negotiators.

“For consumers, who we will place at the (center) of our work, there is an opportunity to build trust in our existing world-class standards and to demonstrate the value of those standards to the global market,” Smith said.

USDA accepts cattle industry’s animal welfare standard

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is cheering a USDA’s decision to adopt the industry’s checkoff-funded National Beef Quality Assurance Program. That action gives the wisely used animal welfare standard new credence internationally.

The USDA certified that the checkoff standard, which is used by more than 85% of U.S. cattle ranchers, is compatible with the department’s International Organization for Standardization for animal welfare and is “aligned with the principles of the World Organization of Animal Health.

USDA’s action “clearly shows that animal welfare is a top priority for America’s cattle producers and global consumers can rest assured that the American beef they consume is produced in accordance with the highest animal welfare standards in the world,” said Kent Bacus, NCBA senior director of international trade and market access.

Biofuels coalition hits EPA in campaign ad

A coalition of biofuel advocates is targeting EPA with a social media ad blitz in Iowa over the next three weeks. 

The group’s ad asks Iowa voters to express concerns about the Trump administration’s track record on biofuels. “The initial run will total nearly $100,000 and appear across Iowa on Twitter, Facebook, and via targeted display ads,” a Biofuels Vision 2020 spokesperson tells Agri-Pulse.

The coalition plans to continue the ads until the November election – or until EPA disposes requests for retroactive small refinery exemptions. In June, EPA confirmed it received 52 new biofuel waivers dating back to 2011.

Why it matters: Iowa is critical to GOP hopes to win the White House and retain control of the Senate. 

He said it. “The pandemic is not finished. The economic pain is not finished. So Congress cannot be finished either.” – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announcing release of the HEALS Act, which includes $20 billion in farm relief. 

Questions? Tips? Contact Philip Brasher at philip@agri-pulse.com