August 5, 2020
Ross: Hunger will drive a need for donations for years
During a meeting of the State Ag Board yesterday, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross said the Farmers to Families Food Box program may be needed beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
“I'm very concerned about the profound impact to our families up and down the state of California with prolonged unemployment,” she said.
Ross added that the Great Recession led to a continued demand even as the economy rebounded.
“We want to make sure that we have put in place programs that will be there to help with this situation,” she said.
On that note: Ross added that several Central Valley counties are ready to opt in for the governor’s new Housing for Harvest program. The state has been using FEMA dollars to book hotel contracts.
This will provide isolation housing for asymptomatic farmworkers exposed to COVID-19. Ross said the challenge will be communicating to farmworkers that these are safe places for them and their families.
CDFA to submit hemp plan soon
CDFA is finalizing its hemp plan to submit to USDA. Ross said she is hopeful this will happen early this month.
“That's a very important piece for bringing some certainty to the hemp growers here in the state,” she said.
Uncertainties followed USDA’s interim rule issued in November, which provided a narrow 15-day testing window ahead of harvest. California growers were already struggling to meet CDFA’s 30-day window. Hemp is a labor-intensive crop, and mechanical harvesters are not readily available.
In January, Ross told Agri-Pulse she was optimistic USDA would have revisions to its proposal.
USDA prepared to roll over unused CFAP
USDA budgeted $16 billion for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and hasn’t paid out anywhere close to that amount yet. But USDA says in a statement to Agri-Pulse the department will save any unused funds to help provide farmer assistance during the “remainder of 2020 and into 2021.”
As of Monday, USDA had distributed $6.8 billion in CFAP payments. The signup deadline is Aug. 28.
The statement says USDA used conservative assumes in developing the program to “make sure we were able to cover COVID-19 impacts in all production agriculture sectors and focused on only the first quarter and a small portion of the second quarter.” Also, the fact that many commodities eligible for the program aren’t covered by other farm programs added complexity to payment estimates, the statement said.
“USDA continues to do vast outreach to farmers and ranchers of all sizes and from all sectors of production agriculture to educate and promote CFAP sign up,” the statement said.
By the way: USDA also tells Agri-Pulse the department now has $18 billion available in its Commodity Credit Corp. account, including $14 billion provided by the CARES Act, enacted in March. The CCC account had $3.5 billion available at the end of June.
Farm bankruptcies ease despite pandemic
Farm bankruptcies are slowing down a bit this year despite the market disruptions, evidence that federal relief is helping the sector, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Some 284 farms have filed for bankruptcy between January and June, 10 fewer than during the first half of 2019. There was an uptick in June, however, with Chapter 12 filings up 8% from a year ago.
“The fact that we saw bankruptcy filings slow in the first six months of 2020 shows how important the economic stimulus alongside the food and agricultural aid from the CARES Act have been in keeping farms above water, but the economic impact of the pandemic is far from over,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall.
Ouch: McConnell disparages Thune initiative
The positioning in the coronavirus aid negotiations continues without any public evidence at least that Democrats are close to a deal with the White House. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ran down a series of problems with a House-passed aid bill and in the process singled out an initiative championed by Senate GOP Whip John Thune, R-S.D.
The unnecessary items in the House bill, McConnell said, included “diversity and inclusion studies and a soil health program and on and on and on.” The soil health program he’s referring to has to be Thune’s Soil Health and Income Protection Program, which the House bill would expand to 5 million acres.
The set-aside program, which was authorized by the 2018 farm bill, is currently limited to 50,000 acres. Thune would like the program expanded, but the House provision was left out of the Senate GOP’s aid proposal, released last week.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told Agri-Pulse in a recent interview that a SHIPP expansion is still in the mix, but it’s not clear it will make it into the final bill.
Take note: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Tuesday that negotiators hope to get a deal done yet this week.
For more on the ag issues in play in the aid talks, be sure and read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter.
Senators seek to stop duties on fertilizer imports
Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran and other Republicans are appealing to the Trump administration to end a move to impose countervailing duties on phosphate fertilizers.
“U.S. farmers depend on affordable phosphate fertilizers to produce a variety of crops, including corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, sorghum, sugar beets, and fruits and vegetables,” Moran and seven other GOP senators wrote the Commerce Department and U.S. International Trade Commission.
Phosphorous accounts for 20 percent of fertilizer usage and 15 percent of total cash costs for producers, the senators say.
Commerce is investigating whether phosphate fertilizer production is unfairly subsidized in Morocco and Russia, undercutting the U.S. industry.
He said it:
“I’ve got the power!” That was Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, perhaps channeling the 90’s band Snap! to describe President Trump’s claim that he has the authority to extend the weekly $600 unemployment benefits for Americans.
Grassley said he’s not sure Trump actually has that authority or whether it would be a good idea to use it. “I don’t know how that sells with the American public,” Grassley said.
Steve Davies, Ben Nuelle and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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