September 11, 2020

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Finger pointing, but still hope for COVID bill?
Senate Republicans say the chances of another big coronavirus bill are all but dead after Democrats blocked movement of a pared-down GOP bill on Thursday. But a senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Jim Costa, tells Agri-Pulse that he’s still optimistic for a deal this month after participating in a call with the Democratic congressional leadership.
“Usually we get things done in Congress when you have that intersection between good public policy and politics. I think that intersection is there,” Costa said during an interview for Agri-Pulse’s Washington Week in Review.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that she hasn’t given up on a bill, but she continued to insist that Republicans agree to spend far more money on state and local governments than they have proposed so far. “Let’s not have a skinny bill when we have a massive problem,” Pelosi said of the Senate GOP proposal. The measure garnered 52 votes, all Republican, leaving it well short of the 60 votes needed to pass.
The other view: Republicans say they’re worried the talks have hit a dead end, with at least one suggesting Democrats are counting on winning the presidency and control of Congress in November and then passing a bigger bill.

Costa: Lawmakers should be open to early farm bill
Costa also said he thinks the House Ag Committee should be open to starting hearings on a new farm bill next year, although the 2018 law isn’t set to expire until 2023.
“We've dealt with an emergency crisis here in the last six months, but that may not be sufficient to deal with the next two years,” Costa said, when asked about calls by some committee Republicans to rewrite the 2018 farm bill. “And so we need to be open to all of the above.”
By the way: Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue had indicated he’d be announcing a second round of payments under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program this week. But Costa thinks the announcement could be delayed until next week or the following week.
Costa is pressuring USDA to expand the list of eligible commodities and raised concerns this week with Bill Northey, USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation. Costa mentioned Pima cotton and raisins as two commodities that have so far been omitted from CFAP.
Take note: Today’s the deadline for farmers to apply for the first round of CFAP.

High winds are contributing to wildfire expansion in the West, explains the National Water and Climate Center.
Costa: Fire damage in the billions, with more to come
Congress has played a role in exacerbating the scale of the wildfires now burning across the West, said Costa. Instead of managing the forests for fire prevention in recent years, “we’re using that money and other money to put out fires.”
Now those decisions are playing out as lives are lost and damages escalate. “We believe the losses in western states are going to amount to billions of dollars,” Costa said. He noted that thousands of acres in wine growing regions now have smoke damage. "There's no market for smokey wines, at least not one that I’m aware of.”
Watch our interview with Costa here.

Newsom signs bill on paid sick leave for COVID
The governor signed a bill late Wednesday that extends his executive order on paid sick leave. The new law provides two weeks of COVID-19 leave for food sector workers at businesses with 500 or more employees.
The bill appeared in the final days of the legislative session without public debate. It revived an earlier labor-sponsored bill that failed to pass the Assembly. A number of food and ag groups opposed that bill. The California Grocers Association argued extending the measure beyond the initial stay-at-home order would hurt businesses as they reopen.
Brazil drops rice tariffs, opens door to US trade
Brazil, facing a spike in rice prices that has consumers grumbling, is temporarily dropping its 12% tariff on imports from outside the Mercosur trading bloc that includes Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
The tariff cut only lasts through the end of the year and only applies to the first 400,000 metric tons imported, but the USA Rice Federation says that U.S. farmers can take advantage of the break to make new sales.
“With rice coming out of the fields now, we are well-equipped to assist Brazil in filling this supply void,” said USA Rice President and CEO Betsy Ward. “This turn of events provides a unique opportunity for both paddy and milled rice sales.”
She said it:
“We’re just not filling that pipeline fast enough from the manufacturing processes.” — CDFA Secretary Karen Ross
Ross was explaining why the state is putting in another order for N95 masks, which will help agricultural workers get through the next 90 days, as wildfire smoke intensifies.

Ben Nuelle, Steve Davies and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.

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