A new report from the American Farm Bureau Federation said few farmers have been able to take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program. Of the $349 billion originally allocated for the program, it is estimated $4.37 billion, or 1.3%, was distributed to the agricultural, forestry, fishing and hunting sector. According to Farm Bureau Economic Analyst Megan Nelson, a self-employed farmer’s participation is based on net farm profits from 2019. If that farmer reports a net farm loss for 2019, they are ineligible for the loan. “It’s likely that trade disruptions and other natural disasters have made major impacts on net farm profits,” she said.

Changes coming for payment limits in COVID-19 relief
    Payment limits of $125,000 per commodity and $250,000 per entity were part of the COVID-19 agricultural assistance package from the United States Department of Agriculture. That was considered unworkable by numerous commodity groups. In a webinar organized by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson detailed a recent conference call between his committee and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Peterson said USDA will eliminate those payment limits going forward. Peterson also said the latest coronavirus relief bill “is getting out of control” and has no bipartisan support.

Farm economy feels effects of COVID-19
    The initial effects of the coronavirus pandemic have been felt in agriculture. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s quarterly report found a larger decline in farm income and loan repayment rates than in recent quarters. The reduction in farm income also put modest pressure on liquidity. The survey, which was conducted in mid-March, cites a decline for interest rates on agricultural loans and relatively stable farm real estate values. The bankers surveyed were pessimistic about the economic outlook, but said government payments should provide significant relief to farmers again this year.

Headwinds in agriculture
    Prices are low in most sectors of agriculture right now. AgCountry Farm Credit Services CEO Mark Knisley said in the last two years, government payments have been helpful to get farmers through tough times. “Along with Market Facilitation Program payments, we’ve been fortunate yields have bailed us out in the past. We haven’t had the ability to have that kind of yield to market at this point,” Knisley said. There may be a fair amount of prevent plant acres this year and the crop concerns may line up into 2021. “We’re seeing plenty of headwinds in agriculture right now.”

Liquidity is the key
    Cash flow was a problem a year ago and that has been repeated this spring. AgriFinancial Regional Sales Officer Brian Brandt was part of a farm financial presentation and said cash flow remains a priority. “Cash is king, and if you don’t have cash to pay the bills, you’re at someone else’s mercy,” Brandt said. “In regards to visiting with your lender, do it today, do it yesterday; communication is key.” Diversified Services Director of Producer Services Brooks York said there are options including the Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan. “The process was easy; it is a great way to qualify for $150,000 to help you out of a shortage of cash flow,” he said. York said there is a quick turnaround with this SBA loan program.

USDA forecasts an increase in milk production
    USDA is forecasting 2020 milk production at 222.4 billion pounds, up 200 million pounds from last month. The increase is due to higher-than-expected cow numbers. For 2021, USDA expects a slightly smaller cow herd but an increase in per-cow milk output, resulting in a bump in milk production. The May supply/demand report raised cheese and whey prices from April, resulting in a higher forecast for Class III milk prices.

Walz signs ag policy bill
    In the final days of the regular session, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed the omnibus ag policy bill. This legislation includes funding for the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to prepare for foreign animal diseases like avian flu and African Swine Fever. The new law also offers grants for loan origination fees to help eligible farmers when refinancing their operations. Grants for a new grain bin safety program and a commitment to the farm advocate program were also included.

Plant-based products offers standards for labeling
    The Plant-Based Foods Association has released guidelines for labeling non-dairy yogurt products, recommending terms like plant-based and dairy-free. National Milk Producers Federation Senior Vice President Clay Detlefsen said a voluntary standard “simply codifies illegal behavior.” NMPF and other dairy groups want the government to prevent companies manufacturing products made from soybean, oats and other plant products from using dairy terms.

Agronomist provides spring alfalfa fertilization tips
    It is that time of year where the 2020 forage crop is either being planted or coming to life after the winter season. WinField United alfalfa and forage specialist Jeff Jackson said farmers should not forget about spring fertilization of alfalfa coming out of dormancy. However, areas with spongy soils can wait with fertilizer applications until after the first cutting. “Leaving wheel tracks could do a lot of crown damage and impact stands,” Jackson said. “If you have conditions and can apply fertilizer by all means do so. Those with unfit conditions can do a split application; some after the first cutting and again in August.”

Penn retires
    The long-time economist J.B. Penn has retired. From 2001 to 2006, Penn was the USDA undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services. Penn also served as the senior staff economist for the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. For the past 14 years, Penn has been the chief economist at Deere and Company.

Trivia challenge
    The first Dairy Queen restaurant opened in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois. That answers our last trivia question. For this week, how many cheeseburgers does the average American eat each week? We will 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.