READ the NAFB’s National Ag News for Monday, April 27th

Sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation

Senators Want Farm Payment Caps Removed

A bipartisan group of senators wants the Trump Administration to remove the caps on the amount of direct coronavirus relief farmers can get under USDA’s new aid package. Politico says the $19 billion plan for relief, put together by President Trump and Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, includes $16 billion in direct payments, which are capped at $125,000 per commodity and $250,000 per person. That’s in line with payment limits from the 2018 Farm Bill. In a letter to the president, 28 senators pointed out that the limits could disproportionately hurt some of the hardest-hit corners of agriculture. Perdue is hoping to launch the aid program in May, and the senators want the payment limits scrapped before USDA puts the finishing touches on the aid program. For example, fresh produce growers have higher production costs than other farmers. Strawberry growers can spend up to $30,000 an acre. The senators say that means the current payment limitations will be “too restrictive to meaningfully address the losses” they’re facing. Purdue has already said there won’t be enough money to help all sectors of agriculture, adding that getting rid of payment limitations will likely mean running out of money that much quicker.

The letter was also signed by 28 U.S. Senators:

  1. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO)
  2. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
  3. Jerry Moran (R-KS),
  4. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA),
  5. Pat Roberts (R-KS),
  6. Ron Wyden (D-OR),
  7. James Risch (R-ID),
  8. Doug Jones (D-AL),
  9. Mike Crapo (R-ID),
  10. Bob Menendez (D-NJ),
  11. Thom Tillis (R-NC),
  12. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ),
  13. John Barrasso (R-WY),
  14. Jeff Merkley (D-OR),
  15. Tom Udall (D-NM),
  16. Kevin Cramer (R-ND),
  17. David Perdue (R-GA),
  18. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL),
  19. Joni Ernst (R-IA),
  20. Patty Murray (D-WA),
  21. Martha McSally (R-AZ),
  22. Martin Heinrich (D-NM),
  23. Deb Fischer (R-NE),
  24. John Cornyn (R-TX),
  25. Roy Blunt (R-MO),
  26. Todd Young (R-IN),
  27. Richard Burr (R-NC),
  28. and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA).

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China Studying How to Expedite U.S. Purchases Despite Opposition

Bloomberg says China is looking at possible ways to speed up its purchases of American farm goods to meet its Phase One Trade Agreement commitments. However, it appears not everyone is happy with the idea. The government is looking at speeding up the process because the coronavirus delayed some imports. Proposals include potentially buying 10 million tons of U.S. soybeans for Chinese state reserves if demand from private buyers isn’t enough. China could also fulfill its annual import quota of corn, which is currently at 7.2 million tons, with grain from America. The Asian nation could also consider buying more than its quota, potentially reaching as high as 20 million tons of U.S. corn imports. China is also looking at buying one million tons of U.S. cotton for government reserves. However, Bloomberg points out that there is some opposition to the planned buys. Some officials are questioning whether the government should be trying to expedite U.S. purchases given the downturn in the Chinese economy after the coronavirus outbreak. The current round of discussions on the purchases is reported to be at the lower levels of the Chinese government, with no final decision made yet.

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PPP Relief Act Passed by Congress Expected to Help Agriculture

Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program Increase Act and President Trump signed in on Friday. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane says his organization is pleased with congress passing more money for PPP. “America’s cattle producers are working hard every day to keep feeding America, even as they face more than $13 billion in financial losses while also tending to the health of their families during the pandemic,” Lane says. “We hope the swift passage of the PPP Act means more aid will be available to cattle producers.” Lane added that the NCBA is also grateful that Congress explicitly authorized producer eligibility for Economic Injury Disaster Loans and emergency grants administered by the Small Business Administration. Todd Van Hoose, President and CEO of the Farm Credit Council, says, “We will do everything in our power to get farmers and ranchers access to funding through the Paycheck Protection Program.” Public Lands Council President Bob Skinner says, “Federal lands ranchers play a major role in American agriculture, raising 60 percent of our nation’s sheep herd and 40 percent of the nation’s cattle herd. The expanded relief will help to make sure that the cattle and sheep industries can keep producing food and fiber.”

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Growth Energy Calls for Relief for U.S. Ethanol

Two more of the country’s ethanol plants are going offline amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor says that underscores the industry’s need for help. “We just went through the third week in a row that ethanol production hit a record-breaking low, even as stockpiles hit a new record-breaking high,” Skor says. “The evaporation of fuel demand due to COVID-19 has been a knock-out blow to biofuel plants across the heartland, who were already fighting an uphill battle against trade barriers, regulatory threats, and a flood of foreign oil.” She says while half the industry is already offline, two more ADM plants, one in Iowa and the other in Nebraska, have been added to the growing list of plants impacted. “Ethanol producers represent the heart of the rural economy, and when they’re forced offline, the ripple effect can be felt across the agricultural supply chain, including farmers who are without a market for their crops, as well as meatpackers and ranchers who rely on local ethanol plants for animal feed and carbon dioxide,” she adds. “With plans to support the oil and gas industries already in place, it’s vital that policymakers give the same consideration to biofuel workers and farmers equally impacted by the disruptions to the motor fuel market.”

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Senate Democrats Release COVID-19 Impact Report

Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow of Michigan led a group of fellow Democrats in releasing a report on the impact of COVID-19 in rural America. The report was put together by the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which Stabenow chairs. The Hagstrom Report says senators from Minnesota, West Virginia, and Montana joined Stabenow on a conference call, and they pointed out that the coronavirus is later in coming to rural America but is now spreading rapidly. The senators repeatedly brought up the issue of broadband internet access during the conference call. “Tele-health is a wonderful thing if you have internet service,” says Joe Manchin of West Virginia, “but worthless for those people who don’t have access to the internet.” Some of the highlights from the Democratic plan for responding to COVID-19 include widespread, rapid testing to save lives, contain the spread, and reopen the economy. It also includes immediate high-speed internet funding to close the digital divide and deploy high-speed internet across the country. They also want protections for the food supply and food industry workers, as well as expedited support for farmers, ranchers, and small businesses to help them weather the crisis.

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Farmer Pessimism Hits Historic Level

With everything going on right now, it’s probably not surprising that farmers aren’t optimistic. DTN found that farmer attitudes have hit historic lows because of poor commodity prices and falling economic conditions due to COVID-19. The DTN Agriculture Confidence Index dropped a staggering 97 points from December 2019, with the index currently at 67. It’s a 43-point drop from the spring of 2019. The previous record-low index level was 71.9 in August of 2016, as falling crop prices hit during a divisive presidential election. In the latest survey, record or near-record pessimism was found across the entire agricultural spectrum, and it didn’t matter what crops farmers were growing, what they’re income level was, or where they were located. Numbers above 100 indicate optimism, while numbers below 100 show pessimism. The current survey produced a current expectation score of 55, with a future expectation index at a still-pessimistic 73. DTN says it is significant that the record lows come during a spring survey as optimism tends to be at its highest as farmers get ready to plant. Midwest farmers showed the most pessimism for current conditions, yet they also showed the most optimism for the future.

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.