QLA Program Signup Period Extended

USDA has extended the Quality Loss Adjustment program enrollment deadline to Friday, April 9th. The original deadline was set for today. At this point, more than 8,100 applications have been filed. Payments will be made after the application period ends. Listen to an exclusive Red River Farm Network interview with USDA Farm Service Agency Associate Administrator Steve Peterson.

Tai Testifies

On Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative-nominee Katherine Tai told the Senate Finance Committee that, if confirmed, a top priority will be implementing and enforcing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
 
“For the enforcement side on the USMCA I talked about in my opening statement. It’s about caring and nurturing the agreements we have to make sure they deliver on the promises that have been made,” said Tai. “That also goes for the other trade agreements we have under our belt. I want to make clear that’s a priority and the phase one deal with China.”
 

Vilsack is Back

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is the latest cabinet member to official join the Biden Administration. Vice President Kamala Harris swore Vilsack in over Zoom. Vilsack will go down in history as the 30th and 32nd agriculture secretary, having been in that role during the eight years of the Obama Administration.

Working remotely from Iowa, the agriculture secretary acknowledged there’s a lot to do with little time to do it. A top priority is the coronavirus pandemic, and USDA is reviewing how the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) is administered.

“In the meantime, we’re making payments under CFAP 2. The next round of CFAP is under review. We felt it was necessary to extend the sign-up period during the evaluation.” Vilsack said once determinations are made for the next round of CFAP, program sign-up will be extended another 30 days.

When it comes to climate change, Vilsack said USDA will be as helpful as possible to providing resources, technical assistance and verify conservation practices.

Watch the video.

Ag Not Included in New Stimulus Package

The new $2 trillion coronavirus package does not include any significant assistance for agriculture. There is one provision to provide assistance to minority farms, focused primarily on Black, Hispanic and Native American colleges and universities.

Additional Flexibility for Specialty Crop Block Grants Requested

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture has requested to protect farm workers and additional support for the specialty crop industry. In a letter to Acting Agriculture Secretary Kevin Shea, the organization asks for extra flexibility for the use of Specialty Crop Block Grants. These uses could include vaccination programs for agricultural workers, building COVID-19 related infrastructure and offsetting increased costs for worker housing and transportation.

USDBC Winter Board Meeting Outlines a Busy 2021

The U.S. Dry Bean Council (USDBC) concluded its winter board meeting virtually last week. During the meeting, USDBC outlined numerous initiatives for 2021 that capitalize on continued strong global demand for U.S. dry beans.
 
The initiatives outlined include:
  •  A new staffing pattern for Latin America (not including Mexico) resulting in enhanced market coverage and in country presence.
  • Global U.S. dry bean value proposition research revealing key messaging to be incorporated into future strategies.
  • Analysis of the current threat to dry bean trade posed by low or zero tolerance MRLs in Vietnam as a template for future global research and recommended response.
  • Ongoing work on dry bean innovation focused on bean flour and ready to eat dishes with beans, to become part of USDBC’s domestic and global promotion work.
  • Enhanced global social media and PR campaigns in all programs while travel remains limited.
  • Ongoing pivot to virtual trade missions for Q1 2021 with UK/EU up next.
  • Final push for BeanCon21 registrations, matchmaking for business sessions, pre-production of all panels set to begin early this month.

Vilsack Faces Senate Ag Committee

On Groundhog Day, Agriculture Secretary-nominee Tom Vilsack found himself back in front of the Senate Agriculture Committee for a confirmation hearing. Vilsack is returning to the job he previously held for eight years during the Obama Administration. The former Iowa governor kicked off the hearing by saying this is a fundamentally different time in agriculture.
 
“I recognize the unprecedented challenge we face with COVID and while pursuing these ‘why not’ opportunities will not shirk the duties and responsibilities of the Department.”
 
Regarding the use of Commodity Credit Corporation funds, Vilsack said he’d ask for the same flexibility that was given to Secretary Sonny Perdue. Climate change, food security and market transparency were also highlighted.
 

Governor Walz Releases 2022-23 Biennium Budget

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz released a $52 billion budget proposal for the 2022-23 biennium. The proposal would raise taxes for corporations and the wealthy. It emphasizes small business support because of the coronavirus and provides an increase in the general fund for education. The Minnesota Agriculture Department’s budget proposal has a three-percent (about $4 million) increase from the previous biennium. Conservation efforts, trade, farmer stress efforts and more are included the budget proposal. Now, the Department will present the budget to state lawmakers. Read the proposal.

An Exception for H-2A and B Workers with Visas

President Joe Biden’s has issued an Executive Order banning travel from South Africa. Despite this COVID travel ban, the State Department is making an exception for South African workers with H-2A and H-2B visas. This applies to food and agriculture workers. Approximately 5,000 H-2A workers are from South Africa.

Supplemental CFAP Payments Paused

USDA has suspended $2.3 billion in supplemental Coronavirus Food Assistance (CFAP) payments to farmers. Most of the money is going to contract hog and poultry growers and others who were left out of earlier programs. The Biden Administration put these payments on hold while it reviews the regulations taken during the final days of the Trump Administration. The Farm Service Agency will continue to accept applications during the review process.