Weekly Food & Agriculture Update 6.15

Monday, June 15th, 2020

WEEKLY FOOD & AGRICULTURE UPDATE

June 15, 2020


Contents
  • COVID-19 Updates
  • Big Picture Outlook
  • Nominations and Confirmations
  • The Week Ahead
  • MTA in Action
  • A Quick Look Back
  • Contact the Team

COVID-19 Updates

Legislative Update– Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Small Business Administrator Jovita Carranza explained how the federal government will implement the Paycheck Protection Program changes approved by Congress. Businesses now have some additional flexibility and guidance with the loans they receive. The Act:

  • Provides a cushion against reductions in loan forgiveness if a business is unable to hire an employee who was working on or before February 15th, 2020.
  • Extends the timeframe for businesses to rehire workers for their salaries to count toward loan forgiveness. The original deadline for rehiring was June 30th but has now been extended to December 31st. The employment salary cap is $100,000.
  • Extends the one percent interest repayment period from two to five years for loans approved on or after June 5th. This will only apply if the loan is not forgiven.
  • Extends the deferral period for borrower payments of principal, interest, and fees on PPP loans, when applicable.

For more information about the changes, view Secretary Mnuchin and Administrator Carranza’s joint statement.

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations committee will begin mark up the 2021 fiscal year agriculture appropriations bill in the last week of June. The House is anticipated to mark up their appropriations bills the first two weeks of July and vote the last two weeks of the month. Since the Senate has decided not to take action on a second coronavirus aid bill until after the July 4th holiday recess, they will likely be a week or two ahead of the House on appropriations legislation.

Senate Democrats submitted a letter to Secretary Perdue questioning the distribution methods of the USDA’s Food Box initiative. The letter asked for additional information about the total value of food actually being delivered, how determinations were made about the places to receive boxes, how much went towards labor costs and other expenses, and how distribution contracts were awarded. Secretary Perdue said in an interview that when the next phase begins, the USDA is going to look at potential regions missed in the first round of distributions. Since the program began, the USDA has distributed five million boxes with the hope to distribute forty million by the end of June. Funding for the program is capped at $3 billion with the USDA spending about $300 million a month.

Federal Update- Farmers are now receiving the first round of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments. Last Monday, the USDA reported that producers have received approximately $1.4 billion of the $16 billion that the department anticipates delivering. Of that amount, $676 million has gone to livestock producers, primarily beef cattle and hogs. The rest has gone to row crops, dairy, fruit and vegetables, and specialty crops. Applications for CFAP can be filled out at local FSA offices and are open until August 28th.

Democratic members of the House Agriculture Committee have since raised concerns about the distribution process for CFAP. In a letter to Secretary Perdue, members addressed concerns about the program, such as the exclusion of contracted commodities, not recognizing cost premiums of organic crops, and not distinguishing the higher value of livestock and crops raised for restaurant chains and other alternative markets.

Industry Update– American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) submitted a letter to Congress asking for additional measures to be taken to assist struggling farmers as part of the next coronavirus aid bill. The group requested that Congress increase USDA’s spending authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), provide direct payments on losses incurred after April 15th, and open acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for emergency haying and grazing. AFBF President, Zippy Duvall, said in the letter “the economic losses across the U.S. agriculture sector are broad-based…from input providers to end users.” Other priorities listed in the letter include assistance for farmers and ranchers, rural health care, small businesses, rural broadband, and agriculture labor and worker safety.


Big Picture Outlook

Farmers Address Racism in Agriculture– Recent national events have led several farm groups to address the issue of racism in agriculture. The latest agriculture census shows that more than 96% of the nation’s two million farms are run by white producers, with thirty-five thousand US farms being operated by black farmers. Farm groups have raised issues such as land access issues, and oversight into discriminatory lending practices. Groups such as the National Farmers Union, the National Young Farmers Coalition, and the American Farm Bureau have all issued statements condemning racism on an agricultural and national level.

Dicamba Cancelled as Approved Herbicide– The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals nullified the EPA approval of three dicamba products, much to the concern of farmers across the country who have already planted dicamba-resistant crops for the year. Last week, the EPA announced farmers could use their existing stock that had been purchased prior to the announcement until July 31st although this decision is currently being challenged in court. Secretary Perdue urged this stock usage decision, stating “farmers across America have spent hard-earned money on previously allowed crop-protection tools.” Currently, the ban only applies to dicamba manufactured by Bayer, BASF, and Corteva. It does not apply to Syngenta’s version of the chemical.

Coalition Urges Delay of Dietary Guidelines– The Nutrition Coalition requested that the USDA and HHS delay the release of the new Dietary Guidelines The Coalition received a whistleblower complaint that claims critical flaws exist in the guidelines. These flaws range from not having adequate time to complete scientific reviews to leaving out clinical trials. The USDA and HHS have not changed their schedule based off the request. The guidelines were originally due to be released on June 8th but were delayed for a virtual meeting to be held on June 17th. A final draft will be posted online by mid-July for the public to provide feedback on and the final set of guidelines are scheduled to be released by the end of the year.


Nominations and Confirmations
Julie Callahan has been selected to be Assistant USTR for Agricultural Affairs and Commodity Pricing.

The Week Ahead

Tuesday, June 16
  • 10:00am EST: The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a meeting to “Examine the Impacts of COVID-19 on the Energy Industry.”
  • 12:00pm EST: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce will conduct a hearing on “Reviving Our Economy: COVID-19’s Impact on the Energy Sector.”
Wednesday, June 17
  • 10:00am EST: The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a meeting on “The 2020 Trade Policy Agenda.”
  • 1:00pm EST: The House Committee on Small Business will conduct a hearing on “Paycheck Protection Program: Loan Forgiveness and Other Challenges.”
  • 3:00pm EST: The Senate Committee on Finance will hold a meeting on “The President’s 2020 Trade Policy Agenda.”
Thursday, June 18th 
  • 12:00pm EST: The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a meeting on “Tax Relief to Support Workers and Families During the COVID-19 Recession.”
  • 3:30pm EST: The House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands will holding a hearing on “H.R. 244, H.R. 1267, H.R. 2611, H.R. 3682, H.R. 5040, H.R. 7045, and H.R. 7099.”
*The House is expected to meet during the week of June 22, 2020 to consider the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. This is a change to the previously announced House schedule.

MTA in Action 

MTA Welcomes Jessica Kuney– Jessica Kuney joined MTA as Executive Assistant and Office Manager. Her role at MTA will include administrative and organizational responsibilities that will greatly assist MTA in serving its clients. Kuney is a native of Washington D.C. and is a graduate of American University in English-Literature. She enjoys, baseball, hiking, and arts festivals.

MTA Bids Farewell– MTA bade farewell to Kerry Lynch, who served as Director of Public Affairs. Lynch was an invaluable part of the MTA team for over five years. We truly appreciate all of the work Kerry did for MTA and its clients. We wish her the very best in her new endeavors.


A Quick Look Back