Weekly Food & Agriculture Update 6.29

Monday, June 29th, 2020


June 29, 2020

Programming Note: The MTA Weekly Food & Agriculture Update will break for the July 4 Holiday and will resume publication on July 13.

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

COVID-19 Updates

Legislative Update– Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Frontline At-Risk Manual (FARM) Laborers Act. The bill provides protections for farm laborers including ten days of paid leave and hazard pay. The bill will also provide premium pay at thirteen dollars an hour, help maintain payrolls and limit layoffs, and implement improved social distancing and sanitation guidelines at agriculture workplaces. The bill is endorsed by several labor unions including the United Farm Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Senate Democrats are leading an investigation into major meat processors over Chinese exports during the coronavirus. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) sent a letter to Tyson, Cargill, JBS, and Smithfield Foods demanding information about how the companies protected laborers as well as the amount of meat they exported to China. The Senators said plant employers put workers at risk and questioned the company’s intentions on keeping workers and consumers safe and fed. China has had an increased demand in pork as the African Swine Flu decimates their herds, however the USDA criticized China as they have banned poultry from a U.S. Tyson Plant, pork from a German plant, and beef from a Brazilian processor in an effort to prevent COVID-19 from being brought in on imports. Additionally, China has began having food exporters sign waivers stating that products aren’t contaminated with the virus. Secretary Perdue issued a statement rebuking China, saying there is no proof people can contract the virus from food or food packaging.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) called on the Senate Agriculture Committee to hold a hearing on a piece of legislation he and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) have introduced to require changes in cattle pricing. The bill would require fifty percent of a meat packers’ weekly volume of slaughter be purchased on the open market. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts has expressed disinterest in the bill, but Senator Grassley believes a majority of the committee would support the bill.

Federal Update- President Trump signed an executive order barring most immigrant workers from entering the United States in an effort to mitigate COVID-19 and to try to open up jobs for Americans. In all, the White House projects over five hundred thousand jobs will be opened up because of the ban. The ban does not apply to H-2A workers who are immigrants allowed in for agricultural work. The ban does apply to those who work in the landscape or forestry industries as well as those who process, transport, or sell human or animal food. This order was extended just days before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Administration allowing deportation to occur to some asylum seekers without allowing them to make their case to a federal judge. The United Farm Workers labor union endorsed Joe Biden’s run for the White House shortly after the executive order was signed, arguing that Biden would protect immigrants currently at risk of deportation. The executive order is set to expire at the end of the year.

Industry Update– The Farmers National Company, the largest U.S. farm management and real estate sales company, reported that farmland values are steady or lower than they were last year because of the coronavirus and reported fears of declining farm income. The report said when the pandemic hit, the land market paused as buyers and sellers slowed activity. The report stated that farm debt is rising with projections of farm income to be approximately three percent this year, despite government aid, and then plunge again by approximately twelve percent in 2021. However, an Iowa survey expects land value to be worth ten percent more in 2024 compared to 2020.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union stated that ninety-three meatpacking and food-processing workers have died because of the coronavirus. The union also represents grocery and drug stores where close to two hundred of its members have died and 2,300 members have been exposed or infected. The union expressed concern for meat facility workers as many laborers are concerned about contracting the virus because of the inability to maintain social distancing in some processing plants. About twenty plants closed down in April which caused President Trump to sign an executive order telling meatpackers to stay open to mitigate meat supply chain interruptions.

Big Picture Outlook

Hearing Held on Climate Act– The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing to discuss the Growing Climate Solutions Act. Testimony was offered by four industry leaders, including American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall who said it is crucial for agriculture producers to have alternate methods of revenue as farm income is often unpredictable. He also said any program focused on helping farmers needs to stem back to the economics of producing. During the hearing, Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) noted the importance of making the program farmer friendly, with Duvall replying that some programs have too many rules and this one should be made to be simple. A companion bill is set to be introduced by House Agriculture Committee members Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Don Bacon (R-NE).

Grain Standards Reauthorized– The Senate Agriculture Committee met on Wednesday to reauthorize the U.S. Grain Standards Act through September 30, 2025. The bill authorizes the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS), a department of the USDA, to establish marketing standards, including weighing and inspection services for selected grains. Different grain groups, including the National Association of Wheat Growers and the US Wheat Associates said the program extension will be crucial for US exports. Some of the crops covered by the standards are barely, canola, corn, sunflower oil, triticale, and others.

China Purchases More Soybeans– Secretary Mike Pompeo and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer emphasized China is still going to follow through on their end of the Phase One Trade Deal including purchasing of U.S. agricultural commodities. This reassurance came after White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro said the deal was over, to which he said he misspoke. President Trump sent out a Tweet saying the trade deal is still going. The President also said that a decoupling option was part of the trade deal, despite Ambassador Lighthizer saying there were no decoupling options. Despite the crosstalk between officials, Chinese imports of U.S. goods continue to rise, particularly in purchases of American agriculture products.

House Proposes Infrastructure Bill– House Democrats are proposing a $1.5 trillion-dollar infrastructure bill called the Moving Forward Act that aims to improve roads and bridges, transit, rail, broadband, drinking and wastewater systems, and health care. The Moving Forward Act was derived from a number of other bills to create an infrastructure bill proposed during appropriations markup. The bill does not include any provisions for the DRIVE-Safe act. Instead, the bill increased minimum insurance requirements for motor carriers. The bill is anticipated to fail in the Senate.

MTA in Action 

MTA Bids Farewell– MTA would like to extend best wishes to Marissa Dake as she moves on from Michael Torrey Associates to assist with coronavirus food relief efforts. During her time with MTA, Dake assisted with policy research, managed the internship program, and created advocacy communication materials. We truly appreciate all the hard work Marissa has done for MTA and its clients and wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.

The Week Ahead

Tuesday, June 30
  • 2:30 pm (EST) The Senate Committee on Finance will hold a hearing to “Examine Censorship as a Non-Tariff Trade Barrier.”
Wednesday, July 1
  • 10:00 am (EST) The House Committee on Small Business will hold a hearing to discuss “The Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program: Status Update from the Administration.”
  • 12:00 pm (EST) The House Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing to discuss “U.S.-China Relations and its Impact on National Security and Intelligence in a Post-COVID World.”
Thursday, July 2
  • 10:00 am (EST) The House Small Business Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access will hold a hearing to discuss “Supply Chain Resiliency.”
To see a full list of House and Senate Committee business, visit here.

A Quick Look Back

Contact the Team 

Feel free to contact Mike Torrey, Tara Smith, Cassandra Kuball, Jessica Kuney , Barbara Patterson, or Perry Harlow with any questions or comments.