Longtime Senate appropriator and GOP dealmaker Roy Blunt of Missouri is the fifth GOP senator to announce that he’s not seeking re-election. Blunt is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and former ranking Republican on the Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee that writes the annual budgets for USDA and FDA.
To announce his retirement plans, Blunt tweeted a video of him standing in front of his parents’ old dairy barn.
“It’s a long way from here to the United States Capitol, but the things I learned here continue to shape how I work for our country and for our state. One of the lessons was to always finish the work that could get done that day. You also understood that you had to use the tools and resources you had, not the ones you wished you had," he said.
Looking ahead: Two more Republicans have yet to say whether they will run in 2022: Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who is 87, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
Grassley: Minority farmer payments need limits
Grassley has long advocated for tightening eligibility rules and payment caps for farm subsidies, and he thinks there should be limits on the payments that will be made to minority farmers under the new economic stimulus package.
“If you are going to help farmers, it should come within the payment limitations that we have and things like that,” Grassley told reporters on Monday.
The stimulus bill, which the House is expected to send to President Joe Biden this week, requires USDA to make payments to minority farmers of up to 120% of their indebtedness on USDA direct and guaranteed loans. The Senate made a change in the provision that would allow USDA to put some limits on the size of the payments, which are estimated to average $222,000.
Payment rules on existing farm and conservation programs vary significantly.
Grassley, Klobuchar call on USDA to aid biofuels industry
Grassley and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., are leading a bipartisan group of 10 senators urging Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to use unspent COVID-19 funding to aid biofuel producers hit financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the department prepares a proposal for providing assistance to the agriculture industry using (the Commodity Credit Corporation) and other resources, we ask that you use this explicit authority to aid the nation’s biofuels industry,” a letter to Vilsack reads.
The letter argued specific language included in December’s COVID relief bill explicitly clarifies USDA may provide direct payments to biofuels producers hard hit by the pandemic. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, foregone revenues for calendar year 2020 were estimated to be $4.9 billion.
AMS wants input on how to spend money in 2021 appropriations bill
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is looking for feedback as it considers how to spend $1.5 billion made available in an FY 2021 appropriations bill for food purchases.
Much of the money will go for commodities in the Farmers to Families food box program, which is in operation through the end of April and for which AMS also is seeking input, but USDA also can use the funding for grants to small- and mid-sized processors and distributors.
A listening session is scheduled for March 19 and comments will be accepted through March 31 via online portal or by email to AMSCOVIDStimulus@usda.gov.
About those food boxes: The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture has sent a letter to Vilsack supporting continuation of the food box program with changes. NASDA CEO Barb Glenn “outlined recommendations to promote equity in farmers’ access to the program and remove unnecessary barriers of entry,” the group said in a news release.
“Recommendations included considering the adverse impact on smaller farms when awarding contracts based on price, enabling vendors to curate boxes based on local preference and availability of food, and encouraging the participation of socially disadvantaged farmers,” according to NASDA.
Cheers! South Koreans drinking more US beer
South Korea’s overall imports of beer declined in 2020, but that wasn’t the case for U.S. suds. The United States exported $35 million worth of beer to South Korea last year, a 3% increase from 2019, according to a new analysis from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
While that may not seem like a substantial increase, the Asian country’s overall beer imports dropped 19% to $227 million during pandemic conditions for most of the year. One reason imports from the U.S. rose during the downturn is due to a new tax policy that “reduces the tax burden for higher quality beers, including imported U.S. craft beer,” according to the FAS report.
“The tax change along with increased Korean consumer demand for quality and diversity should generate growth opportunities for U.S. beer exports to Korea in coming years,” FAS said.
US ag exports to Cuba spike in January
January is traditionally a major month for Cuban ag imports, and that was the case this year as U.S. shipments of poultry, soybeans, rice and other commodities were valued at about $19 million.
U.S. ag exports to Cuba in the first month of the year were about 42% higher than in January 2020. While that’s good news, says John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., the spike is not a result of any major policy changes that U.S. farm groups are hoping the Biden administration will support to remove trade restrictions.
Poultry made up most of the increase in Cuban ag imports from the U.S. Cuba, despite the trade and travel restrictions imposed by the U.S., is the fourth largest foreign market for U.S. poultry.
Florida couple pleads guilty in farm scheme fraud for COVID relief
A couple in Florida has pleaded guilty after scheming to file four loan applications for a total of $1.1 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
According to the Department of Justice, when submitting their EIDL applications, Latoya Stanley and Johnny Philus were posing as farmers.
In the EIDL loan application, Stanley said she generated over $800,000 in income and employed five people. Philus claimed to generate $400,000 in income, employing 10 people. The only problem? They don’t have a farm in the backyard of their Miami home.
Sentencing has been scheduled for June 2.
USDA says hemp rule can go ahead without changes
The final domestic hemp production rule published in January has been reviewed and will become effective March 19, USDA said Monday.
The rule was subject at the beginning of the new administration to what USDA called a “routine” process of reviewing new and pending regulatory actions.
Larry Farnsworth, a spokesman for the National Industrial Hemp Council, said NIHC supports delayed enforcement of specific sampling and testing provisions because potential congressional legislation to increase the amount of THC allowed in hemp could complicate USDA enforcement.
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