March 1, 2021 at 5:25 p.m.

USDA’s No. 1 priority is COVID response

By Don Wick- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

    With Agriculture Secretary-designate Tom Vilsack awaiting confirmation, USDA Chief of Staff Katharine Ferguson spoke on behalf of the Agriculture Department at the Ag Outlook Conference. Ferguson said the Department’s response to COVID-19 tops the agenda. “We cannot get our economy back on track and we cannot build rural America unless we contain and end the COVID-19 pandemic.” Ferguson promoted local and regional systems to improve access to healthy food. Ferguson also said the Biden administration will support farmers of color and the small-to-mid sized farms by reducing barriers to land, capital and risk management.

Hope remains in ag amid division in Washington D.C.
    According to National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO Chuck Conner, a partisan polarization is happening in Washington D.C. “Members of Congress now, quite literally, fear members across the aisle and their supporters or simply view them as un-American in some way. These feelings aren’t just across party lines, there are these feelings among the same political party,” Conner said. “Working together seems impossible and yet, against that terrible backdrop, is the start of a new presidential administration. One reason for hope among some of the darkest times in our nation’s capitol is having Ag Secretary designate Tom Vilsack to lead agriculture.” Conner said President Biden seemed respectful of all views, but that doesn’t mean there will not be partisanship on key issues. Conner’s comments were made during the NCFC annual meeting.

How will the Biden administration handle trade tariffs?
    Negotiating new trade deals is not the top priority for the Biden administration, but former Chief Agriculture Negotiator Darci Vetter said there are overlapping trade decisions the administration will be making soon on tariffs. How the administration makes the decisions will signal how they’ll deal with future trade problems. “As they review the phase one deal, there are hundreds of billions of products we import from China currently facing import tariffs. A few products had exclusions expiring December 31. The Biden administration will have to figure out how to deal with those.” An additional item the Biden administration will consider with China is benchmark purchases. “There are valid questions to ask. I think it’s worth agriculture thinking about. How would we like to engage with China?”

Immigration reform
    An immigration bill has been introduced in Congress. National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern responded, saying immigration reform must include changes critical to the dairy workforce. “These include extending to current workers and their families the legal protections they have earned and enabling dairy farmers to use a guest worker program to supplement their domestic workforce when needed.”

Farm credit conditions improve
     There was a dramatic improvement in farm credit conditions for the region in the final three months of 2020. More than three-quarters of the ag lenders surveyed in the fourth quarter by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis reported an increase in farm incomes. Just under half of the lenders said loan repayment rates have increased. The value of non-irrigated cropland increased 3.6 percent from one year ago. Cash rents for that ground rose more than 6 percent.

Give the Paycheck Protection Program another look
    Sign-up is open for the Paycheck Protection Program. MinnStar Bank Farm Management Analyst Kent Thiesse said if farmers did not qualify for the first round, the program may be worth revisiting. “Now, farmers can use line nine on the Schedule F, gross income, to potentially qualify.” Thiesse said if farmers applied for a loan in the first program, received it and were forgiven, those farmers cannot reapply for the first round of the program. Farmers may be eligible for the second round of PPP loans. “Farmers can apply for round two, but they must demonstrate they had at least a 25 percent reduction in receipts or gross income for one quarter in 2020, compared to the same quarter in 2019.” PPP loans are being administered through local ag lenders and the application deadline is March 31.

Bill advances to repeal restrictions to manure applications
    The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is making changes to the NPDES permit requirements, restricting the application of manure during certain months. A bill repealing these restrictions has passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee and is on its way to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Minnesota Farm Bureau said tying regulations to specific dates on the calendar makes no sense and will limit a farmer’s ability to manage these nutrients.

Delaney moves to Senate Ag Committee
    Patrick Delaney is the new director of external affairs for the Senate Agriculture Committee. In this role, Delaney will oversee coalition building and stakeholder outreach. Previously, Delaney was the chief spokesperson for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson.

Fischbach names district director
    Minnesota Representative Michelle Fischbach has named Ben Anderson as her district director. Most recently, Anderson was a regional director for the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Previously, Anderson worked at USDA, the House Agriculture Committee and the staff of Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman.

DeLaval names new CEO
    The Tetra Laval Group Board has appointed Paul Lofgren as president and chief executive officer of DeLaval, effective April 1. After 18 years in the role, Joakim Rosengren is stepping down after 18 years in the position.

Dairy promotion board members elected
    Dairy Management Inc, National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and United Dairy Industry Association have elected board officers. Farmers from Minnesota are serving in leadership, including deb Vander Kooi of Worthington, Minn. as the treasurer of DMI. UDIA officers include Treasurer Charles Krause of Buffalo, Minn.

DeBriyn passes
    Former AgStar Financial Services CEO and President Paul DeBriyn has passed away. DeBriyn was at the helm of AgStar for 26 years. He served on the Farmer Mac board and chaired the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council. DeBriyn’s many honors include AgriGrowth’s Distinguished Service Award in 2014 and the Siehl Prize in 2011. DeBriyn, 65, was born in Thief River Falls and lived most recently in Florida.

Trivia challenge
    Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow represents the State of Michigan in Congress. That answers our last trivia question. For this week, what state does House Agriculture Committee Chair David Scott represent? We’ll have the answer in the next edition of Dairy Star.

Don Wick is owner/broadcaster for the Red River Farm Network, based in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Wick has been recognized as the National Farm Broadcaster of the Year and served as president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. Don and his wife, Kolleen, have two adult sons, Tony and Sam, and five grandchildren, Aiden, Piper, Adrienne, Aurora and Sterling.


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