USDA is moving to make it tougher for members of some large family farm operations to get federal subsidies. USDA is publishing a rule in the Federal Register today that will require people trying to qualify for payments as active managers of a farm to provide either 25% of its management or 500 hours of time. The requirement already applied to members of partnerships.

Paul Neiffer, an agricultural accounting specialist for CliftonLarsonAllen, tells Agri-Pulse the requirement will mostly affect large family farming operations, a relatively “small segment of the farm population.”

Still, the change is a victory for Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., who have been pushing for years to tighten the rules. 

Read our report on the rule here. 

Trump promoting food boxes today

Trump will be in North Carolina today to call attention to USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, a project in which his daughter Ivanka Trump has been personally involved. 

Flavor 1st Growers & Packers in Mills River, N.C., which Trump will visit, is working with Baptists on Mission on the food box program in the state. Baptists on Mission was awarded contracts totaling more than $5 million as part of the $3 billion food box program, which has delivered nearly 70 million boxes since it began in May.

But not without controversy: The Food Box program recently came under fire for a letter included in boxes from Trump, which says he “prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need throughout America.” The letter includes COVID-19 safety tips, including a suggestion to “consider wearing a face covering when in public.”

Congressional Democrats have blasted the inclusion of the letter, calling it a violation of the Hatch Act, which restricts political activity by federal employees. The White House responded with statements from White House adviser Ivanka Trump, Ag Secretary Sony Perdue and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci supporting its inclusion.

RNC kicks off tonight with roll call of the states

The Republican National Convention begins tonight, and it will be something of a blended in-person and virtual event. The roll call of states takes place this evening. President Trump will deliver his acceptance speech Thursday night from the south lawn of the White House. 

Take note: The convention will lack the traditional industry luncheon for agricultural leaders and delegates, which still may be held this fall. The Democratic National Convention had a virtual event last week sponsored by leading agribusiness companies and featuring leaders of various companies and organizations as well as Democratic policy makers. 

Read our RNC preview here

Biofuel talk unlikely at RNC

A biodiesel advocate says it’s unlikely Trump will say much of anything about biofuels during the convention. “It would be nice but I am not holding out any hope,” National Biodiesel Board Vice President of Federal Affairs Kurt Kovarik told Agri-Pulse.

Kovarik is hopeful that Trump will follow up on his promise to Iowa officials to personally intervene with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on pending refinery requests for waivers from the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Peterson demands CFAP clarification

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson is calling on Agriculture Sonny Perdue to provide more details about how the department determined the eligibility of crops and livestock for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. 

In a letter to Perdue, Peterson, D-Minn., says producers of some commodities were denied payments because of requirements that were inconsistent and unjustified. 

For example, USDA allowed the use of sub-national data to justify a qualifying loss when it came to apples but not when it came to other commodities, including turkeys, alfalfa, nursery crops and cut flowers, Peterson says. 

“Without consistent public clarity on what data USDA deems sufficient for use or how USDA is analyzing this data, the program is at risk of public distrust and other commodities seeking future program eligibility are placed at a disadvantage,” Peterson writes. 

Farm groups lose challenge to testing rule

A federal judge has upheld an emergency order in Michigan requiring COVID-19 testing of migrant farmworkers in the state starting today. Late Friday, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney ruled the order did not discriminate against Latinos, even though they constitute the vast majority of those affected.

In a lawsuit backed by more than 100 Michigan farm groups, six farmworkers and two farming operations in the state alleged the order was discriminatory. But the judge, citing a brief filed by a University of Michigan law professor, said the plaintiffs could not show there was no “rational basis” for the order.

Read our coverage here.

Senators want Mexican restriction on US potatoes lifted

Mexico’s unique restriction on U.S. potatoes – they can’t be shipped more than about 16 miles over the border – has got to be removed, three Republican U.S. senators from potato-growing states told USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue in a letter.

Mexican potato farmers insist there are phytosanitary reasons that fresh U.S. potatoes can’t be delivered too deeply into the country, but U.S. producers say their spuds present no risk. The issue remains tied up in Mexico’s legal system.

“This limitation greatly reduces opportunities for U.S. potato producers and further limits options for Mexican consumers,” said Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner. “We encourage you to consider the use of all available mechanisms, including the new dispute resolution authority under the USMCA, to ensure Mexico honors its agreement to allow U.S. potatoes to reach Mexican consumers.”

US cherry exports to Japan benefit from tariff reduction

 U.S. cherry farmers are already benefitting from the initial tariff reductions included in the U.S.-Japan trade agreement, according to a new analysis released Friday by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

The gains are small so far, but Japan’s tariffs are scheduled to keep falling in the years to come. Japan dropped its tariffs on sweet cherries from 8.5% to just 2.5% from January through April and they will eventually be eliminated completely by 2023.

Japan is expected to import 4,200 metric tons of sweet cherries in the 2020-21 marketing year, up from 4,152 tons in 2019-20.

He said it. “They’re not country bumpkins and being led to believe that ‘Don’t worry, E15 took care of all of your problems.’ The fact of the matter is, a soybean and a corn farmer understand very well the impact (of what) undermining the RFS does to their bottom line and to their markets.” - National Biodiesel Board’s Kurt Kovarik on the importance of the Trump administration denying small refinery exemptions to the RFS. 

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