Potential Biden Administration Picks are Rolling In

Speculation has begun over the possible cabinet picks in a Joe Biden presidential administration. Former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp is getting most of the attention for the top job at USDA. Both Bloomberg and Politico have named Heitkamp as the likely choice for Agriculture Secretary. Other contenders include Illinois Representative Cheri Bustos, Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge, former Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden, the former agricultural negotiator in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, Darci Vetter and California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross.
 
In addition to USDA, there are other cabinet positions that impact agriculture. The names being highlighted by the national media for the EPA administrator include the chairperson of the California Air Resources Board Mary Nichols, the senior director of the Mom’s Clean Air Force Heather McTeer Toney, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and National Wildlife Federation CEO Collin O’Mara. For the U.S. Trade Representative cabinet post, candidates include California Congressman Jimmy Gomez, former USTR general counsel Jennifer Hillman, former deputy trade representative Miriam Sapiro and McLarty Associates President and CEO Nelson Cunningham.

U.S. General Election Results

Votes are still being tallied in the U.S. General Election. Democratic candidate Joe Biden is expanding narrow leads over current Republican President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania and Georgia. The Electoral College vote count according to Reuters has Biden at a 253 to 214 lead. View election results from North Dakota and Minnesota, too.

Dry Bean Scene

Even though all of the 2020 U.S. General Election results are still unknown, there are some things that are certain for agriculture. David Widmar of Agricultural Economic Insights and Randy Russell of The Russell Group have more in this week’s Dry Bean Scene on the Red River Farm Network.

Section 179 Conformity Sign into Law

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has signed the bonding and tax bill. This includes conformity with the federal Section 179 expensing provision for farmers. That change is retroactive to 2018. The $1.9 billion bonding bill includes $627 million to improve roads and bridges.

Assistance Available for MN Agriculture

The coronavirus pandemic caused major hiccups in the food supply chain earlier in the year, particularly when it came processing and transportation of ag commodities. That’s why nearly $7.7 million of CARES Act funding is now available agricultural producers and meat processors impacted by the COVID-19. Over $4 million is available for hog farmers and $1.25 for turkey farmers who had to depopulate and dispose of those animals. Another $1 million is set aside for meat processing facilities. This financial support also includes dollars for local food systems, Farm Business Management scholarships and Department of Agriculture grants. Hear more from Petersen in this Red River Farm Network interview.

MN Legislature Passes Bonding and Tax Bill

A $1.36 billion bonding and tax bill was passed by the Minnesota Legislature on Thursday. This will provide $200 million in tax breaks for farmers, including Section 179 conformity.
 
“I think there was some concern about getting the tax bill done before we enter the next biennium in January, after the election and a new Legislature convenes,” said agricultural lobbyist Bruce Kleven. “Lawmakers have been working on this for months and they’ve had chances in special sessions over the summer. It’s better late than never.”
 
The bill is a little different than what was proposed in early 2020. “What was being considered earlier this year was a more comprehensive tax bill including other provisions. This bill has been streamlined to be just a Section 179 conformity bill,” said Kleven. “Essentially, the language has a retroactive component to the like-kind exchanges in calendar year 2018 and 2019 and then, the full expensing for all properties in 2020.”

October 30 Deadline Set for WHIP+

USDA has set Friday, October 30 as the deadline to submit applications for the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program – Plus (WHIP+) for 2018 and 2019 losses. USDA did not originally specify a deadline when the program was announced.
 
WHIP+ compensates producers for losses due to hurricanes, floods, snowstorms, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, drought, excessive moisture and wildfires occurring in calendar years 2018 and 2019. Drought and excessive moisture were added as eligible losses for the program in March 2020. To date, FSA has received more than 133,000 applications for WHIP+ disaster assistance and paid out nearly $1.4 billion in WHIP+ benefits.
 
FSA has launched a new tool on the farmers.gov WHIP+ webpage to help producers understand eligibility for the program and whether they had possible losses in 2018 and 2019. The tool will also allow producers an opportunity to provide information for FSA staff to reach out to them.

CFAP Details Coming This Week

USDA is expected to announce details about the next round of coronavirus relief payments this coming week. During a stop in Iowa, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the rules will be announced before Friday’s deadline for enrolling in the current CFAP program. The second round of CFAP payments will cover COVID-19 related losses from April 15 to the end of the year.
 
Current program information is available here.

USDA Updates Conservation Provisions for Wetlands

USDA has issued a final rule for farmer who appeal the Natural Resources Conversation Service wetland determinations. With that, landowners now have the right to an onsite farm visit. This ruling comes in accordance with the 2018 Farm Bill. Additional clarifications were made in the final version, which was published in the Federal Register today.