On July 27, Senate Republicans released their proposed next phase of coronavirus relief measures. House Democrats previously passed their own version, the HEROES Act, and the two chambers along with the White House will negotiate on the different provisions. The House bill is larger in scope, totaling $3 trillion, while the Republican proposal is about $1 trillion. The latter includes an additional $20 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue direct assistance to farmers, such as the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) . The House Democrat proposal includes similar direct assistance to farmers as well as funding to expand acreage enrollment in the Soil Health and Income Protection Program, explicit funding for biofuel producers and an increase in benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Negotiations on the package are likely to take at least a couple of weeks.
The USDA has now paid out $6.55 billion under the CFAP. As of July 28, over $4.7 million has already been paid for canola. With one month before the sign-up deadline, the USDA is not close to distributing the full $16 billion initially provided for the program. Initial payments were made on 80 percent of a producers’ total payment eligibility and it appears that the USDA will have sufficient funds to provide the remaining 20 percent of the first round of CFAP payments. Applications will be accepted through August 28 on the USDA website.
The House of Representatives passed a package of annual appropriations bills, including the Agricultural Appropriations bill. It includes language supporting continuation of the Sclerotinia Initiative, a priority for the U.S Canola Association (USCA). Overall, the bill provides about $24 billion for annual discretionary programs and operations, a slight increase over the amount provided in FY2020. This does not include funding provided for coronavirus response and efforts. The Senate has not yet taken action on FY21 appropriations bills and is unlikely to do so before the end of the current fiscal year. This will force a Continuing Resolution, possibly to carry past election day in November.
The USCA submitted brief comments on crop insurance changes intended to clarify policy provisions and provide consistency with other crop provisions that offer coverage of both fall and spring-planted acreage.
On July 24, the USDA’s Risk Management Agency notified the USCA of changes to Prevented Plant (PP) policies. The changes result from a task force representing the Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, National Crop Insurance Services, Crop Insurance Professionals Association, and Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Changes include expanding the “1 in 4” requirement nationwide and allowing acres of an uninsured second crop planted on the same acres within the same crop year following a failed first crop not to be subtracted from the eligible PP acreage.
The USCA and other agricultural stakeholders are working on a letter to reiterate the need for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue updated guidance on plant breeding innovations, such as gene editing. Many U.S. researchers and developers are making multi-year resource and innovation decisions and eagerly await this draft guidance. Stakeholders include the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean Association, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Association of Wheat Growers, and National Corn Growers Association.