Agriculture in brief: COVID-19 relief coming; suicide prevention part of recent legislation

Candace Krebs
Special to Ag Journal

Latest COVID-19 relief includes agriculture support

Chairman and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, announced successfully leading bipartisan negotiations to increase food assistance for families and provide help to farmers and food suppliers in the final COVID-19 package announced Sunday.

The final bill includes $13 billion in food purchases and direct support for farmers and ranchers to support and build resiliency into the U.S. food supply chain, as well as a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits and additional funding for food banks and senior nutrition programs.

The bill specifically includes $400 million for a new dairy product donation program and $60 million in grants for small meat and poultry processors. It will also provide a new round of supplemental support for row crop, specialty crop and livestock producers.

BQA publishes biosecurity planning document

The Beef Check-off funded Beef Quality Assurance program has developed a Daily Biosecurity Plan for Disease Prevention template.

The template, which helps cattle producers implement daily biosecurity measures on their operations, is available digitally as a PDF. The template was specifically designed to be customizable, giving producers flexibility in determining management practices that work best for their cattle operation. It covers everything from animal movement to worker training.

Fish and wildlife rules on monarch butterfly listing

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would leave the monarch butterfly off of the endangered species list, issuing a “warranted but precluded” decision, which means the monarch will remain a candidate species for now.

The service will continue to study the species and review its candidacy for listing on an annual basis, according to the agency.

Groups like the American Farm Bureau point out that many voluntary programs are underway to increase the monarch population but more time is needed to allow these programs to work.

New measure aimed at reducing rural suicide rates

The Seeding Rural Resilience Act, aimed at curbing the rising rate of suicide in rural areas, was passed by the U.S. House and Senate recently as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Jon Tester, D-Mont., both active farmers. The senators cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing the suicide rate in rural America is 45 percent higher than in urban areas.

Americans in rural communities face isolation, distance from basic health care services, lack of broadband access, stigmas against receiving counseling and financial burdens due to stagnant crop prices, the senators said.

CoBank report: Economic recovery depends on vaccine

The speed of the economic recovery will largely hinge on the availability, dissemination and reach of COVID-19 vaccines, pushing an expected burst of pent-up consumer demand into the latter half of 2021, according to a comprehensive annual outlook report provided by CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange division.

“The coming year will be a recovery year for most Americans and the businesses that make up the U.S. economy,” said Dan Kowalski, vice president of CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange division. “The early part of the year should look very different than the latter, but in total, economic growth is estimated to be about 4 percent, following a retreat of roughly 4 percent in 2020.”

He added that the global economic recovery was very uneven in 2020, and given the current surge in virus cases, he expects that to remain the case in 2021.

Ethanol industry protests unfair tariff in Brazil

Brazil’s recent decision to impose a 20 percent tariff on all U.S. ethanol imports is devastating for the U.S. ethanol industry and will harm future cooperation and coordination between the two nations, according to the U.S. Grains Council, Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association and the National Corn Growers Association.

The groups say Brazilian ethanol receives unfettered access into the U.S. market, while U.S. producers are denied reciprocal market access due to a restrictive import tariff designed solely to make U.S. ethanol less competitive.

Since May, U.S. exports to Brazil have fallen to less than 4 million gallons. Over the same period, Brazil exported nearly 96 million gallons of fuel ethanol to the U.S.

COVID-19 confirmed in wild mink

The first known case of coronavirus in wild mink was reported on Dec. 13, leading to calls for widespread monitoring of wildlife.

In an alert to the International Society for Infectious Diseases, U.S. veterinary officials said a wild mink had tested positive near an infected mink farm in Utah. Farmed mink are known to be susceptible to the virus, with widespread cases reported at fur farms in Europe and the U.S. The variant of the virus found in the wild mink was the same as the one found on a nearby farm.

There’s concern that wild or farmed minks could act as a reservoir, allowing the virus to evolve and accumulate mutations that might not normally occur, and then potentially jump to other types of animals or transmit a new, possibly more virulent strain back to people.