On Capitol Hill, there are some signs of life for a big new coronavirus relief package after a presidential tweet Wednesday. Trump called on Republicans to support a “much higher” level of spending than they have. 

A number of vulnerable House Democrats are urging the leadership to seek a deal. And a senior Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, told reporters the White House should consider endorsing the bipartisan plan proposed by the Problem Solvers caucus. “It might move us off dead center,” Cornyn said. 

Take note: The Problem Solvers plan calls for at least $1.5 trillion in new spending, and that’s too much for many Republicans. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey said a smaller GOP plan that Democrats blocked last week was at the “higher end” of what should be passed. The Problem Solvers proposal includes $25 billion for agricultural assistance. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer issued a statement saying they hope the White House will “finally meet us halfway with a bill that is equal to the massive health and economic crises gripping our nation.”

But, but, but: House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson, who met with Pelosi Wednesday, tells Agri-Pulse he’s still skeptical a deal can be reached. 

On campaign call: Taking farm payments is socialism

Two farmers on a Biden campaign call suggested to reporters that farmers who are accepting government payments are essentially socialists. 

“If you’re a rural farmer taking money, you’re a socialist right, and people don’t want to accept that at all,” said Ohio producer Tenah McMahan. But she added that farmers would prefer to rely exclusively on the market for their income. 

Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish said later that the Trump administration’s Market Facilitation Program “definitely is a socialist-type program.”

Angie Craig

Another view: Minnesota Democratic Rep. Angie Craig, who was also on the campaign call, said she understands farmers are frustrated but says at the same time she wants many family farmers to survive as possible. “At the end of the day, (with) the reckless trade war that the president and his administration has caused, we have to be supportive of our family farmers, so it’s a real challenge,” she said. 

USDA won’t budge on organic animal standards

USDA has reaffirmed its decision not to implement new animal welfare standards for organic farms despite multiple flaws made in the department’s analysis of an Obama-era rule. 

The Agricultural Marketing Service says in a final decision published in today’s Federal Register that two regulatory impact analyses on the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule, including one prepared to justify its 2018 withdrawal, contained errors. 

Laura Batcha, the Organic Trade Association’s CEO and president, said “organic standards should be allowed to advance, and not be held back by blatant inaccuracies on the part of USDA.” Referring to the federal judge that ordered USDA to explain its analysis, Batcha said her group “urges the court to move quickly and rule in its favor on its organic livestock welfare lawsuit.”

USDA sweetens whole farm coverage

The Risk Management Agency is tweaking the whole farm revenue insurance program to make it more appealing to smaller scale farmers who direct-market their crops. 

Farmers can now report two or more direct-marketed commodities under a combined single commodity code with a combined expected revenue. The combined commodities will still count as two commodities in calculating the diversification premium discount. 

Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition likes the changes but says several more are needed. Among other things, his group wants RMA to eliminate expense reporting requirements and allow farmers to use Schedule F tax returns to establish their revenue history without additional documentation.

USTR under pressure for Brazil ethanol deal

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer bought himself about three more months to reach an ethanol trade deal with Brazil. Now, members of Congress and industry leaders are pressuring him to get it done. 

Brazil’s tariff rate quota for U.S. ethanol expired on Aug. 31 and a temporary deal was struck last Friday to extend it by 90 days. The industry’s goal is a deal that kills Brazil’s 20% tariff.  

“It’s status quo for 90 days and our attitude is that this gives our government officials 90 more days to hammer out a solution that works for both parties (and) that restores us, really, to a place of free trade between the two countries,” Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said Wednesday.

Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, who’s in a tight re-election race, called the TRQ extension a “good step by the administration … now we just need a long-term solution to continue this market access.”

GAO to USDA: Learn lessons from Food Boxes

The Government Accountability Office says USDA should thoroughly evaluate the Farmers to Families Food Box program after its completion to identify what went well and what did not. 

An overall evaluation after the program concludes Oct. 31 would give USDA ”better assurance it has identified successes and challenges which could inform future efforts to address similar situations,” GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said in a report released Wednesday. 

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue has crisscrossed the country to promote the program, with Ivanka Trump often joining him at some events. She’s been personally involved in the $4 billion program, which has delivered 90 million boxes delivered over three separate rounds. Critics say millions of dollars have gone to inexperienced contractors and that the regional distribution of contracts has been inequitable.

Mexican avocado exports to rise along with US consumption

 The U.S. has a voracious appetite for avocados – consumers just can’t get enough guacamole, it seems – and that plays a big role in the new USDA forecast for another record year of Mexican avocado exports.

USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service estimates Mexico will export 1.02 million metric tons of avocados to the U.S. in the (July-June) 2020-21 marketing year – a 6% increase and a new record high, topping the 963,539 tons that Mexico sent north in 2019-20.

“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and challenges to agricultural harvests and supply chains, avocado demand in the United States remains strong and is forecast to increase,” FAS says.

She said it: "In my district, there are people getting sick. There are people continuing to lose their jobs. There are businesses that are shuttering. They need assistance. They need their government to function for them now more than ever before.” – Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., to reporters Wednesday on the need for a new coronavirus relief package. 

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