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Ag issues in national spotlight

Supporters urged to rally for ethanol, Oklahoma lawmakers want results of beef price report and blueberry growers need support too.

With COVID-19 having a far-reaching impact on agriculture, here's a roundup of some of the federal policy related news we've seen.

Send a message of support for ethanol

Renewable fuel supporters are encouraged to contact their federal lawmakers to urge them to provide emergency assistance for the renewable fuel industry.

Supporters can participate in a grassroots campaign by sending a message to their elected officials today through an online portal on the Renewable Fuels Association website.

“Just over half of the ethanol industry’s production capacity is idled today, as fuel demand has collapsed in response to COVID-19,” said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper. “Corn demand and prices have plummeted as plants across the country are idling. Jobs are being lost, rural communities are being destabilized, and the long-term future of homegrown renewable fuels hangs in the balance. We implore Congress and the administration to take action to ensure the survival of the ethanol industry and the rural communities where these facilities operate. Our nation simply cannot afford to lose an industry that has become such an integral thread in the fabric of rural America.”

Supplies of ethanol coproducts like distillers grains and captured carbon dioxide are also at risk, Cooper said, impacting livestock producers and the food and beverage industry. Ethanol plants capture 3 to 3.5 million tons of CO2 annually, representing roughly 40% of the national supply. The industry also produces nearly 40 million tons of distillers grains animal feed.

Show us the report

Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas and 24 of his House colleagues are calling on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to release the findings of the agency's investigation into beef prices to Congress as soon as possible, the Hennessey Clipper reports.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last month extended the department’s Packers and Stockyard Division investigation that started in August 2019 to determine the causes of divergence between live beef and box prices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The oversight role that USDA and the U.S. Department of Justice have over these markets is a key aspect of cultivating producer confidence in our markets,” said Lucas, a Republican, in the Ripon Advance. “Right now, that confidence is waning in the countryside and I hope that this letter prompts the agency to release their findings as soon as possible.”

No payment limits

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sent a letter to USDA urging against payment limitations for cattle producers under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.

"The low payment cap of $125,000 per commodity will prevent many operations, large and small, from receiving enough assistance to soften this blow," said NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane. "The proposed anticipated loss payment formula for cattle will also leave many producers, including a large percentage of the cow-calf sector, out in the cold. We do not believe this was USDA’s intent, but recognize we are in uncharted territory for the cattle industry with this type of assistance. As such, we feel it is critical to continue providing feedback from our producers across the country to USDA."

Blueberry growers need help too

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said his state's blueberry and potato growers need help and he called on USDA to provide aid, the Bangor Daily News reported.

The USDA should create economic relief programs tailored to the industries, King said. For example, the agency’s definition of “fresh products” should include fresh-frozen wild blueberries so the industry can be included in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.

Lawmakers to USDA: Be 'bold and innovative'

Lawmakers are asking USDA to provide "bold and innovative" solutions to address the harm to farmers and the confusion over why food is being discarded while other Americans need help feeding their families, My Central Oregon reports.

The USDA wants to address that issue with a new “farmers to families” program that will use federal money to pay farmers to box up and distribute their own product to food banks. Similar to a community-supported agriculture box you might pick up from a local farm or farmers market, the donation will include fruits and vegetables, dairy products, cooked poultry or pork, or some combination of the three, and be provided to food banks at no cost.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, wrote to Perdue last week asking that the USDA prioritize options for the program that will reduce food waste and allow producers and food banks to be flexible in adapting contracts to provide a variety of seasonal products.

Radke: Strong voices needed

As the epidemic wears on, folks have gotten nasty to one another on Facebook and Twitter, Amanda Radke writes in BEEF. She's taken some time for reflection and reached two conclusions:

First, now more than ever, strong voices are needed in our states and our nation’s Capitol.

And her second point: It has been truly a delight to see more and more people asking, “How can I buy beef direct from a rancher?”

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