READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Monday, March 30th

Sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation

House Approves Coronavirus Relief Bill

The House of Representatives approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on Friday. The bill, which the Senate had already approved 96-0, now goes to President Donald Trump, who’s already promised to sign it. The Hagstrom Report says the measure passed the House by voice vote, with just a few voices in opposition. Democrats in the House praised Senate Democrats and House leadership for making changes in the bill, while House Ways and Means Ranking Member Kevin Brady says, “Senate Democrats, aided by (House) Speaker Nancy Pelosi, recklessly delayed this bill for days and used this crisis to try and advance a frivolous political agenda. That failed, while the Senate found unanimous, if not perfect, ground.” Mike Rogers of Alabama told the House that the bill was particularly important to rural hospitals that need to buy supplies and build infrastructure to provide medical information and advice online. Washington state Republican Dan Newhouse told his colleagues before the vote that the bill would “support hardworking farmers and ranchers who provide food for the nation.” Pelosi herself called for a large vote so that Americans would realize the government is there to help.

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USDA Accepts Over 3.4 Million Acres in General CRP Signup

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue says his agency accepted over 3.4 million acres into the general Conservation Reserve Program signup that recently wrapped up. It’s the first general signup for enrollments since 2016. County offices will begin to notify producers with accepted acres no later than April 3. “The Conservation Reserve Program is one of our nation’s largest conservation endeavors and is critical in helping producers better manage their operations while conserving valuable natural resources,” Perdue says. “The program celebrates its 35th anniversary this year and we’re quite pleased to see one of our largest signups in many years.” For the past 3.5 decades, the CRP has addressed multiple concerns while ensuring the most competitive offers are selected by protecting fragile and environmentally-sensitive lands, improving water quality, enhancing wildlife populations, providing pollinator forage habitat, sequestering carbon in soil and enhancing soil productivity. Seventy percent of the nation’s land is privately owned, and America’s farmers and ranchers have stepped up to protect the environment and natural resources through this program. Farmers and ranchers get an annual rental payment for establishing long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to help control soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland.

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State Department to Accelerate H-2A Approvals

The U.S. State Department will speed up approvals of H-2A farmworkers by waiving interviews for many applicants. An Agri-Pulse report says the move is applauded by many of the country’s major ag groups, who were worried that embassy cutbacks due to the coronavirus outbreak would leave farmers without the labor they need to run their operations. Late last week, the State Department said consular officers have the option to go ahead and “waive the visa interview for first-time and returning H-2A applicants who have no potential ineligibility.” The State Department’s expansion of the waiver process also quadruples the period in which returning workers may qualify to have their interview waived. That timeframe used to be a year, but applicants who’ve had visas expire anytime during the last four years now won’t need to be interviewed if they are applying for the same visa classification and didn’t need an interview the last time they applied. A State Department document says the new approval process will only be valid during the current calendar year. The Western Growers’ Association issued a statement saying that the move will ease the flow of guest workers into the country during a time when our farmers are doubling their effort to provide the country with safe, healthy, affordable, and abundant food.

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Valero Closing Down Two Ethanol Plants

U.S. fuel ethanol producer and refiner Valero is shutting down two of its ethanol plants, one in Nebraska and the other in Iowa. They’re also declaring “force majeure” (mah-ZHURE) on shipments for dried distillers’ grains or corn purchases, which means they won’t be able to meet contracted demands because of unforeseeable conditions. The force majeure is because of a lack of storage availability for corn or ethanol as demand for fuel drops and storage remains limited due to the excess supply. The coronavirus outbreak is causing Americans to drive considerably less than usual, so the low demand and excess supply are forcing Valero to close plants in Albion, Nebraska, and Albert City, Iowa. An Independent Commodity Intelligence Services website article says the supply of fuel ethanol remains ample while some producers are switching to industrial ethanol production as demand from that sector continues to climb. The state of the summer driving season is also uncertain, which is limiting fuel demand. The peak demand for fuel ethanol is during the summer. Fuel ethanol demand is almost cut in half as the people who account for 45 percent of the overall demand are currently on stay-at-home-orders in the U.S., with those order numbers continuing to climb.

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Less than Half of U.S. Dairy Farms Signed up for DMC

Fewer dairy farmers chose to opt into the Dairy Margin Coverage Program that was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. At the beginning of this year, the forecast was for an improving dairy economy and the USDA prediction tool that showed either low or no DMC payments this year. However, the rapidly-evolving situation brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak is a reminder about how important safety net programs can be in agriculture. DMC is a voluntary, insurance-style program that makes payments when the national average income-over-feed-cost margin falls below a coverage level selected by each farmer. Coverage is available from $4 a hundredweight to as much as $9.50 per hundredweight. At the time of the 2020 program year signup, the all-milk price was expected to remain well above the levels of the previous four years. Projections had the price as high as $19 a hundredweight during 2020. Like other industries, dairy has been hit by the pandemic. Class 3 and Class 4 milk futures have sharply declined. One bright spot is fluid milk sales. Those numbers have jumped higher as Americans shift food dollars away from restaurants and more into at-home spending on food.

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Farm Machinery Giants Feeling the Pinch of Coronavirus Fallout

Tractors would likely be moving at a quicker rate this year as farmers across rural America need to replace some aging machines. However, Bloomberg says there is very little movement of farm machinery in the U.S., plus European production is being hampered by shortages across the industry supply chain. Trade war uncertainties and low crop prices kept farmers from shelling out cash to replace their implements. Now the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is only making matters worse as no one can say for certain how long it will last or how much it will damage the economy. Both Deere & Co and AGCO Corporation say they’ll be cutting back their operations. The move by Deere comes just a month after it announced an unexpected boost in earnings and maintained its early-year positive outlook for stabilization in the ag economy. Now that they can’t forecast the future with as much confidence, the company has changed direction. Large-tractor sales are already down 50 percent below their peak level, which Bloomberg says is normally a sign that farmers have a significant need to replace their equipment. As the U.S. shuts down to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Deere will be reducing some operations and closing others. In Europe, production has already been significantly reduced or suspended in several AGCO facilities as the virus spreads across the continent.

SOURCE: NAFB News Service

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By Brian Allmer - The BARN

Brian Allmer & the BARN are members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB), the Colorado FFA Foundation, the Colorado 4H Foundation, the Colorado Farm Show Marketing Committee, 1867 Club Board Member, Denver Ag & Livestock Club Member, the Weld County Fair Board, the Briggsdale FFA Advisory Council, Briggsdale 4H Club Beef Leader & Founder / Coordinator of the Briggsdale Classic Open Jackpot Show.