State ag commissioners talk CFAP 2 and top ag issues at Big Iron
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sept. 18 released details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program or CFAP 2, for up to $14 billion. The announcement came the day after the 40th annual Big Iron Farm Show, which included a conversation with Minnesota Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen and North Dakota Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring.
WEST FARGO, N.D. — State agriculture commissioners outlined top ag issues in their respective states at Big Iron, including the importance of coronavirus assistance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sept. 18 released details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP 2, for up to $14 billion. The announcement came the day after the 40th annual Big Iron Farm Show, which included a conversation with Minnesota Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen and North Dakota Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring.
Petersen was anticipating the CFAP 2 announcement, and said those payments will continue to be a lifeline for producers in the region.
“The bankers tell us those payments have been incredibly important in keeping our farms going,” he said.
Minnesota farmers moved into the top five states for bankruptcies, and the state has nearly 1,000 farmers in mediation. Petersen anticipates more tough decisions will be made this winter.
The meat processing sector in Minnesota has recovered from the disaster during COVID-19 and, according to Petersen, the pork packing plants are running in the high 90% of capacity. Minnesota ranks No. 2 nationally in pork production and is the top producer of turkeys, and farmers put down hundreds of thousands of birds and around 350,000 hogs.
“We continue to work on that and see what kind of relief we can provide them,” he said.
The state is also trying to expand the small processing sector. He says they have almost 300 plants in Minnesota that meet federal inspection rules, and they are working on grants to boost those, as well as start some smaller USDA inspected plants.
As USDA worked on CFAP 2 and as Congress has debated another round of COVID-19 relief, Goehring said the states weighed in to get needed changes on the direct payment formulas, especially for livestock producers. They have also asked for targeted funds for agricultural and processing losses tied to supply chain disruptions.
“We, as states, had asked for some of that money to go directly to the state departments of agriculture so we can look at grant programs and cost share programs to really assist the consumer and the producer in one swoop,” he said.
The pandemic also escalated problems and shortages with agricultural labor, and Goehring says that will be tough to solve in an election year. Meanwhile, they are working with the USDA and the Department of Labor on solutions.
“We have workers that got here late. A lot of those employers would like to have extensions. We’ve heard some rumblings that because we have a high unemployment rate, they may deny H2-A workers for the 2021 cropping season, which is unfair,” he said. This has created frustration and even some fear.
Farmers in North Dakota also have had another challenging growing season, with near record prevented planting acres and drought in other areas.
“Some of our producers I’m really concerned about, because we have some areas where very little got planted,” Goehring said.
Crop insurance will not cover all the losses, plus many of them are not eligible for the WHIP-Plus program, because it only covered the 2018 and 2019 cropping seasons. So Goehring said Congress would have to approve additional funding for 2020. Complicating losses further is the frost and freeze damage in September, with soybean yield losses ranging from 20% to 35% in some of the worst-hit areas. Test weights on the corn will also be lighter.
Before Big Iron, President Donald Trump announced the Environmental Protection Agency had denied the gap-year Smaller Refinery Exemption requests from small oil refiners, which Peterson said was welcome news in a state like Minnesota that relies on the biofuels industry.
“We really appreciate the president taking action on that. I think it’s really important. It’s something that the ag groups and the ethanol producing states have been asking for for quite a while," he said.
He said time will tell, though, whether the action will prevent EPA from granting future requests, as they have had a devastating impact on ethanol plants and offset some of the gains in ethanol demand with the approval of year-round E15 sales.
Trump also recently tweeted that he was approving the use of E15 in E10 pumps to aid the industry. However, Petersen said they don’t have any confirmation of that.
“Our staff is working with the EPA out of Chicago to understand that, but we don’t have a lot of clarity at this time,” he said.
Yet, he acknowledges that the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Biofuels is looking at how to increase blends, so the administration’s support is well timed, especially since infrastructure and liability with tanks and pumps is a hurdle for growth.