Farmers are still struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. So, nearly 170 farm groups are calling for federal help in getting personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing resources for farmworkers “as we continue to promote the health and safety of our farm employees and rural communities.”

The pleas came in a letter Thursday to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The groups signing on include the National Council of Farm Cooperatives, the American Farm Bureau Federation, state and county Farm Bureaus, the National Farmers Union and a host of commodity organizations.  

The groups want the task force to “prioritize PPE and future vaccine distribution for the food and fiber supply chain” and also ensure that testing resources - and prompt test results - are readily accessible to ag employers. Getting test results promptly also is a challenge, the groups say. “In some regions, it has taken almost two weeks for COVID-19 test results, which creates an increased risk of disease spread and potentially delays agricultural productivity,” the letter says. 

Also on the group’s wish list: Alternative housing structures such as FEMA trailers to facilitate social distancing and help with COVID-19 mitigation expenses. 

Dems, GOP trade barbs amid COVID aid impasse

House Democrats are moving to put a new coronavirus relief package that could be on the floor next week. It will be scaled back from the House-passed HEROES Act, which would cost more than $3 trillion, but at $2.4 trillion it will still be far too expensive for Republicans. 

GOP leaders quickly denounced the Democratic move as a political stunt. “We should be helping those who really need it. The airlines need help, the schools need help, and we should be able to work together,” House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters Thursday.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Democrats’ goal is still to negotiate a deal with the White House. “That’s what our focus is, trying to get an agreement before we go home,” he said. 

Keep in mind: The HEROES Act included $33 billion in aid for agriculture, plus another $35 billion in expanded food assistance, including a 15% increase in SNAP benefits.

Coming soon: Trump weighing in on EU ag trade?

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue says President Donald Trump may need to get involved to settle long-running issues with the way the continental bloc of countries treats American ag goods. 

Responding to a question about ag trade posed by a Minnesota Farm Bureau member Thursday, Perdue rattled off a list of countries that have negotiated trade pacts with the Trump administration – China, Canada, Mexico, and Japan, to name a few – but said the EU “bothers me and concerns me the most.” 

“The European Union has been very tough over our products, and I think the president may have to intervene after the election on that one in order to have some balance with the European Union,” Perdue said. 

ICYMI: Earlier this week at the Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit., Perdue took aim at the EU for its Green Deal environmental policy.

EU preps public for drive to increase organic farming

The EU recently delayed the start date for its overhaul of organic farming rules until 2022, but the bloc of countries isn’t waiting to try to get the public excited about it and help farmers make the transition into organic, according to USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.

The European Commission this month kicked off a public consultation effort to tie in the new regulations with the EU Green Deal, which aims to see at least 25% of farm land in the bloc dedicated to organic production by 2030.

US ag sector stresses farmers need the WTO

Some of the biggest farm groups and companies are speaking up about the importance of the World Trade Organization to U.S. ag exports, even as the Trump administration remains sharply at odds with the international body.

The Corn Refiners Association, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Sweetener Users Association, U.S. Apple Association, US Dry Bean Council, Cargill, Sartori Company and many others have all signed on to a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. The letter says the WTO “remains critical to future export growth, for America’s farmers and ranchers, and the millions of American jobs – most of them off-the-farm – that are linked to and dependent upon U.S. agriculture.”  

Barb Glenn, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, warned in a statement: “Departure from the World Trade Organization would be detrimental to the success of the very industry that feeds our families, and 20 percent of the U.S. economy. NASDA looks forward to supporting WTO reform that grows export opportunities for American farmers, ranchers, and value-added food producers.”

Clock ticks for passage of water resources bill

Soybean industry leaders are optimistic that a water resources authorization bill will still pass this year even though lawmakers will be on an extended break ahead of the November election. 

“We’re hopeful that since this is so bipartisan in nature that this will keep this bill on the docket for the end of the legislative year,” Alexa Combelic, director of government affairs for the American Soybean Association, said on an Agri-Pulse webinar Thursday. 

The House version of the bill passed that chamber by a voice vote. The Senate version was approved in committee unanimously but is yet to get a floor vote.

Roundup case stays on hold for settlements

A federal judge is keeping a lid on further Roundup litigation until Nov. 2 as Bayer and plaintiffs’ lawyers work on settlements to address lawsuits alleging exposure to the herbicide caused cancer.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria held a brief case management conference Thursday where he heard Special Master Ken Feinberg, who is mediating the matter, express optimism that thousands more lawsuits would be settled by Nov. 2.

About 44,000 of approximately 125,000 lawsuits have been settled. Bayer says it’s “accelerating efforts to finalize and implement current settlements” and that it isn’t unusual for “a settlement of this size involving a large number of law firms can take months before it is finalized.”

The company announced in June it planned to spend between $8.8-$9.6 billion to settle about three-quarters of the 125,000 current claims.

He said it. “We’re ready to tee it up. We’ve got the votes.” - Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., speaking to reporters about the House-passed continuing resolution that would keep the government funded until Dec. 11 and replenish USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. account. 

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