READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Tuesday, April 14th

Sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation

Meatpacker Closings Hard on Food Supply Chain

Smithfield Foods will close its pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, until further notice because of employees who tested positive for the coronavirus. It’s just one of several major agricultural facilities temporarily closing operations due to the pandemic. Virginia-based Smithfield Foods says the closures are a trend that may eventually put a dent in the U.S. meat supply. “The closure of this facility, combined with the growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” says Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan. “It’s impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants aren’t up and running.” In addition to a negative impact on consumers, Sullivan also warns of “either severe or possibly disastrous repercussions” across the entire supply chain, including on livestock producers. The company says their Sioux Falls site employs about 3,700 people, processes roughly 130 million food servings a week, and it buys from 550 independent producers. “These farmers won’t have anywhere to send their animals,” Sullivan adds. Almost 300 employees at Smithfield in South Dakota tested positive for the coronavirus, accounting for 40 percent of all the cases in the state.

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USDA Addresses Milk Dumping

The USDA’s Risk Management Agency is ensuring that milk producers are not inappropriately penalized if their milk must be dumped because of recent market disruptions caused by COVID-19. The RMA is also extending inspection deadlines, waiving inspection requirements, and authorizing more crop insurance transactions over the phone and electronically to help producers during the current crisis. Many state and local governments have issued “stay-at-home” orders and shut down non-essential businesses in response to COVID-19. It’s resulted in market disruptions and prevented in-person crop insurance transactions. RMA says it will allow dumped milk to be counted as milk marketings for the Dairy Revenue Protection or actual marketings for the Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy programs. The agency will also allow phone and electronic transactions for 2021 crop year sales and reporting dates, including options and endorsements. The deadline for some perennial crop Pre-Acceptance Inspection Reports has been extended. “Dairy Revenue Protection is a vital risk-management tool for our dairy farmers, especially during times like these, and USDA wants to ensure producers continue to get the coverage they purchased,” says RMA Administrator Martin Barbre.

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Farmers and Ranchers Ready to Help Food Banks

Food banks across the nation are having a hard time keeping up with increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Farm Bureau Federation, as well as the group Feeding America, says farmers and ranchers are ready and willing to work with USDA to help bridge the supply gap and get farm products to those in need. The organizations praised USDA leadership through the crisis and offered recommendations for additional steps to ensure food banks across America are well stocked, which would allow farmers and ranchers to expand on existing partnerships with food banks and respond to shifting demands and pressing needs. While demand has increased across the supply chain as store shelves have emptied due to panic buying, food banks are seeing as much as a 100 percent increase in demand. AFBF and Feeding America both say this demand can be met by redirecting supply from farmers and ranchers who’ve lost other markets like restaurants and tourism businesses due to closures and stay-at-home orders, by implementing a USDA-run voucher system. This would allow farmers and ranchers to work directly with food banks to get farm-fresh products quickly to families in need, while also preventing food waste and helping farmers recoup some of their production costs at a time when they’re fighting to hold on.

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Restaurants Turning to Grocery Sales to Stay Afloat

A very important link in the American food-supply chain is restaurants, which are looking at new temporary ways of doing business to stay afloat. As traditional grocers struggle to keep up with increased demand brought on by COVID-19, restaurants are turning to grocery sales to make ends meet. ABC News says it’s a trend that’s catching on across the country as large chains and mom-and-pop establishments look for new income. Panera launched Panera Grocery, which not only sells traditional Panera restaurant items, but items like milk, eggs, and fresh produce that its 2,100 stores normally use to make meals. Sara Burnett, Vice President of Wellness and Food Policy at Panera, says the decision to sell groceries is a reaction to the “unprecedented crisis our country is going through right now.” Subway is selling groceries at 250 of its stores in five states, including California, Connecticut, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington. The National Restaurant Association says the industry has lost three million jobs and $25 billion in sales since March 1. A spokeswoman says three percent of restaurants have permanently closed and another 11 percent will do so by the end of this month.

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Ag Retailers on Solid Ground During Pandemic

A recent CoBank report says agricultural retailers look to be in good shape as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The report says ag retailers are on “relatively firm footing” as they prepare for spring after last year’s complicated agronomy season. CoBank’s proprietary borrower database says farmer prepayments, accounts receivables, and delinquency trends reported by CoBank farm supply cooperative customers remain in line with 2018, which could indicate a stable-to-improved outlook for agronomy sales and services. Ag retailers’ inventories of seeds, agrochemicals, and fertilizer should meet customer needs during the 2020 planting season, which is expected to see an increase in the number of planted acres for both corn and soybeans. Adverse weather, and more specifically flooding, remain elevated risk factors this season, with forecasts for above-average precipitation this spring over areas that contain already saturated soils. Agronomy sales and service could take a hit if the weather once again leads to high levels of prevented planting. The coronavirus spread may impact supply chains and the availability of certain imported crop inputs that retailers rely on in the short term.

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NASS Preparing for 2022 Census of Agriculture

The National Agricultural Statistics Service recently mailed out the National Agricultural Classification Survey to 350,000 potential farmers and ranchers. The NACS will help identify all those engaged in agricultural activity in the country to ensure that they are included in the 2022 Census of Agriculture. NASS requests that each person who receives the survey respond by May 4. “NACS plays an integral role in getting a complete count in the Census of Agriculture,” says NASS Census and Survey Director Barbara Rater. “By participating in the census, producers show the breadth and value of agriculture, and inform decisions that can impact their operations and industry.” She says it’s for those reasons that they need everyone who receives a classification survey to respond. Even if the form doesn’t apply to them, Rater says they need those folks to respond online to at least the first four questions. To protect the health and safety of the public and its employees, NASS has suspended in-person data collection and limited other in-person mail processing. Completed forms may also be mailed back in the prepaid envelope they provide.

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.