Congressional leaders are looking to pass a massive bill in the next two days to keep the government funded and provide about $900 billion in coronavirus relief. Details of the COVID package had not been released as of Wednesday, but “there’s a sense of urgency for getting this done this week,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. 

A draft that was making the rounds included a new Dairy Donation Program that would reimburse processors for donated products. The program would be retroactive. 

The draft also earmarked $9.9 billion for ag producers and processors affected by the economic fallout of the coronavirus, including contract poultry growers. The draft designated additional funding for specialty crop block grants, local ag markets and other programs. 

Ethanol production plunged 2B gallons in 2020

The ethanol industry is among the sectors looking for COVID aid. An industry economist says ethanol production fell 2 billion gallons from March to November due to the plunge in gasoline usage. Renewable Fuels Association Economist Scott Richman says the industry lost $3.8 billion in revenue.

“I say lost because these are revenues that are permanently gone. This is not pent-up demand once things start getting back to normal,” Richman said.

Richman estimates the industry will produce 13.8 billion gallons in 2020, down from 15.8 billion gallons in 2019. The lost production is equivalent to 700 million bushels of corn.

By the way: Ethanol industry groups and corn growers are angry that Brazil is reimposing a 20% tariff on U.S. ethanol after talks with the U.S. broke down. Read our story here

Gina McCarthy (Harvard)

Biden’s climate czar familiar face to ag

The biofuel industry is counting on Gina McCarthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to be his climate czar, to be favorable toward renewable fuels even though the EPA fell behind on setting annual usage mandates when she ran the agency under former President Barack Obama. 

“We’re hopeful we can continue that positive relationship and dialogue we had,” RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper told reporters.

Keep in mind: During the Obama administration, McCarthy was probably best known to agriculture for her dogged defense of the “waters of the U.S.” rule that expanded the number of wetlands and areas regulated by the Clean Water Act. The Trump administration later replaced the rule. 

At one point, McCarthy said some concerns about the WOTUS rule were “just ludicrous” and said she wanted to “ditch the myths,” a jab at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s campaign to “ditch the rule.”

More reaction: Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said he doesn’t doubt McCarthy’s climate change commitment, but her success will depend on how much authority she’s given. “I hope she has the ability to do more than convene interagency meetings and task forces,” he said.

Environment America’s acting president, Wendy Wendlandt, said McCarthy “has worked tirelessly for decades for a stable climate. Together with special envoy on climate John Kerry, this duo will bring assurance to the international community that the U.S. is ready once again to tackle the climate crisis.”

Take note: Brenda Mallory, who served as general counsel of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Obama administration, is Biden’s choice to chair CEQ, according to multiple media reports. She is currently the director of regulatory policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center. 

Soy industry welcomes Buttigieg for DOT

Mike Steenhoek, executive director for the Soy Transportation Coalition, says he’s confident Biden’s pick for transportation secretary, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, understands the needs of rural America. 

Steenhoek cited Buttigieg’s background in the Midwest and his extensive campaigning in Iowa and elsewhere. Buttigieg often brought up ag issues during debates. 

“If we hope to see the U.S. farmer remain the most competitive in the world, it will require sufficient investments in each link in the agricultural supply chain – rural roads and bridges, highways and interstates, freight railroads, the inland waterway system, and our ports,” Steenhoek said. 

By the way: Biden said Wednesday that Buttigieg would work with states and businesses to carry out his plan to install 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles. 

Tyson fires seven at pork plant

Tyson Foods has dismissed seven employees at its pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, following an independent investigation of allegations that managers were betting on how many workers would test positive for COVID-19. 

Tyson President and CEO Dean Banks said “the behaviors exhibited by these individuals do not represent the Tyson core values, which is why we took immediate and appropriate action to get to the truth.”

US donates 65,000 tons of wheat to Sudan

Floods, the COVID-19 pandemic and a flailing economy has hit farmers hard in Sudan, prompting the U.S. to announce it will donate 65,000 metric tons of wheat at the cost of $20 million to the Northeast African country.

The Wednesday announcement came just two days after Secretary of State Michael Pompeo declared Sudan is being taken off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism list. He also reiterated support for the new transitional government that took control after former-President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in August of last year.

According to USAID, Sudan will use the wheat to help reduce shortages of low-cost flour and bread in the greater Khartoum area.

Blueberry farmers unite to fight imports

 Blueberry groups representing farmers in Florida, Georgia, California and Michigan have united under a new organization – the American Blueberry Growers Alliance – to speak with one voice against the economic harm they say is being done by imports.

“Many family farms have become a casualty of rising imports and are being forced out of commercial production as other countries increase production to deliberately target the U.S. market,” said Brittany Lee, executive director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association. “If something is not done, we will lose the blueberry industry in the United States.” 

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced an official Section 201 investigation into claims that Mexican blueberries are flooding the U.S. market at unfair prices. But it’s not just Mexico, the growers say. Blueberry imports have surged from a number of countries, especially Chile, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, and Canada, lawmakers said in a recent letter to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

He said it. “The secretary committed to building a strong, diverse team at USDA to address the issues in rural America and across our food supply system.” – Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, after meeting Wednesday with former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, who Biden has asked to return to USDA. 

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