Cattle and biofuels clamor for aid, as Schumer proposes broader plan

Futures prices for cattle fell by $4.50 per 100 pounds to $85.25 on the Chicago markets.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue should tap “USDA’s bank,” a Depression-era agency with easy access to billions of dollars, to bail out cattle ranchers hit by sharp declines in beef prices as COVID-19 mounts, said ranch activists on Monday.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer also suggested a $750 billion federal infusion to follow the “families first” relief bill passed by the House, which would suspend SNAP work and job training requirements for the duration of the public health emergency.

READ MORE: How the coronavirus could impact dairy producers

“Senate Republicans believe the proposal the House is still processing can only be the beginning of Congress’ work to protect our economy and stand with the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Senators on both sides are eager to act quickly to support American workers, families, and small businesses.”

Schumer said he would present his proposal, the third package addressing the coronavirus outbreak, as early as Tuesday. “The kinds of targeted measures we are putting together will mainline money into the economy and directly into the hands of families that need it most,” as well as funding for an array of topics, such as expanding hospital capacity, aid to small business, and a delay in repayment of all sorts of federal loans. “The Senate should take up this (House-passed) bill and pass it … without any delay,” said Schumer.

Futures prices for cattle fell by $4.50 per 100 pounds, to $85.25, on the Chicago markets, reflecting the sell-off in financial markets as fear of a protracted economic slowdown grew.

“This is a unique market disruption, and we trust that you and your staff will present a customized, timely, and effective program,” said the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. The group also called for USDA meat inspectors to be treated as essential federal personnel who must stay on the job. “Protocols are needed to make sure that (meat processing) plants do not immediately shut down should an employee test positive for the coronavirus.”

Payments could be drawn from the Commodity Credit Corp, the same agency the Trump administration used to send $26 billion in two years in trade-war payments to farmers and ranchers, said the cattle group.

“The current uncertainty facing beef producers is shared by all of agriculture and every American,” said the larger National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

The Renewable Fuels Association also said ethanol makers are being pummeled by the plunge in crude oil prices. “Ethanol futures prices hit a record low in recent days, as the coronavirus is expected to negatively impact domestic and international fuel demand in the near term,” said the RFA in a statement. It said the Trump administration should not appeal a court ruling that could end EPA waivers for small refiners – waivers that have exempted them from complying with the Renewable Fuel Standard on blending ethanol into gasoline.

READ MORE: Judge tells USDA to move quickly on organic livestock rule

Howard Roth, president of the National Pork Producers Council, said telecommuting is not an option for hog farmers. “We are reporting for work as always while taking all necessary precautions to protect our health and the health of those we work with,” said Roth. A week ago, the farm group said visa rules for guestworkers should be eased to assure labor is available during the COVID-19 emergency.

“Dairy will remain something consumers can count on,” said the National Milk Producers Federation, the largest U.S. dairy-farmer organization.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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