With global attention focused on the spread of COVID-19, Missouri Corn, like many businesses and organizations, is taking measures to protect their employees, while continuing to provide service to growers. Following Gov. Mike Parson’s directive to reduce contact and implement social distancing, our staff is currently working remotely. Our team remains ready to assist, and continues to engage in discussions to ensure growers are represented at the state and federal level, especially during these unprecedented challenges. Sign up for COVID-19 updates.
Agriculture Deemed Essential
Gov. Parson, in coordination with the Missouri Departments of Health and Senior Services and Agriculture, has issued a consistent directive across local governments for any individual or business that is part of the food supply chain. Farmers, ranchers, agriculture businesses and grocery stores are encouraged to continue essential business functions to feed, fuel and clothe our citizens.
This guidance supports the list published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identifying the food and agriculture industry as critical infrastructure during the COVID-19 response. Those traveling to and from places of work within food and agriculture, or for official food and agriculture business, within an area of restricted travel are encouraged to keep a copy of the DHS guidance, today’s DHSS order and a letter from their employer. As a courtesy, Missouri Corn has provided a template letter for corn farmers.
Is Your Farm Prepared?
According to a recent survey of farmers, 70 percent have no formal backup plan should a key member of the family farming operation become ill with COVID-19. This doesn’t mean farmers aren’t thinking about the issue, but in most cases, it has not resulted in a plan of action. Granted, most corn farms continue to be family-run operations with minimal employees and or seasonal help, so much of the advice currently being shared with businesses may not apply. However, there are some basic things you can do and should consider.
Federal Relief: What You Need To Know
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law March 27. Here are key provisions for corn growers:
Paycheck Protection Program
Does my farm qualify for the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program? The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provides $349 billion in loan guarantees to help small businesses (farmers included) to cover payroll costs, interest on mortgage obligations, rent, and utilities. Agriculture enterprises that employ 500 or less people whose principal place of residence is in the United States are eligible, regardless of revenue levels. Up to eight weeks (from Feb. 15 – June 30, 2020) of average payroll and other costs will be forgiven if the business retains its employees and their salary levels.
How do I apply? Check eligibility on the SBA website. Loans may be made through any existing SBA-certified lender to include banks, credit unions, Farm Credit System institutions, and other financial institutions. All loans will have the same terms regardless of lender or borrower, but funding is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Starting April 3, 2020, small businesses and sole proprietorships can apply for and receive loans to cover their payroll and other certain expenses through existing SBA lenders. Starting April 10, 2020, independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply for and receive loans to cover their payroll and other certain expenses. Be advised several lending institution (including Farm Credit and others) reported issues accessing the SBA web portal. The goal is to begin processing applications prior to April 10, but don’t wait to start the process. This sample application can help prepare you for the lender meeting.
Additionally, we hoped farmers would have access to the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), like many other small businesses. However, the CARES Act did not explicitly spell out this benefit for agriculture. At this time, SBA is not accepting applications from small businesses if “they grow it, feed it, or water it”. We feel this is not what Congress intended and are working to clear up this confusion so agricultural businesses can qualify. It is important to note USDA FSA programs are still a good option for many producers. Call or email your local USDA Service Center to talk through availability.
Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC)
What’s included in the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC)? The CCC is the funding source used for Market Facilitation Program (MFP) in recent years, along with the Marketing Assistance Loans and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs. The CARES Act replenished $14 billion to the CCC for net realized losses sustained by agriculture.
How can it benefit my farm? Recognizing the importance of producers maintaining liquidity going into planting, Missouri Corn’s top ask to Congress at the onset of the COVID-19 financial strife was for a direct payment to farmers similar to last year’s Market Facilitation Payments (MFP). While no details of these payments have been released, we do know USDA is working on constructing the formula and now has the dollars to make it happen. However, the agency will be considering how such a payment could impact planting intentions, so we do not expect to see a plan until at least early summer. Please know MCGA is very engaged in how possible CCC payments will be made, and it is our top priority.
Can CCC dollars help ethanol plants? If you are invested in or deliver to an ethanol plant, you are well aware of the financial strain experienced by today’s renewable fuel industry. Missouri is home to six ethanol plants. Most are running well under capacity due to decreased gasoline demand during the COVID-19 pandemic and the oil war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. There are reports of several ethanol plants nationwide shutting down or idling down. National ethanol organizations are pursuing an ask from USDA for a portion of the CCC dollars from the CARES Act to help keep these ethanol plants afloat during this tumultuous time.
What about livestock? The CARES Act included $9.5 billion for the Secretary of Agriculture to assist agriculture producers, including livestock, dairy, specialty crop, farmers markets, schools, and restaurants. According to research by the American Farm Bureau Federation, dairy prices have dropped 26-36 percent, and hog futures are down by 31 percent. Despite a rise in retail beef prices in some areas, the prices paid to cattle ranchers have fallen 25 percent. The hope is this disaster fund will be used to support our livestock partners, which in turn, supports corn farmers as well with a sustainable market. The details of how these funds would be distributed are not determined yet.
Increased Weight Provisions
Corn, DDGS, and ethanol all qualify for increased hauling weight limits under this order. Please be aware, these increased limits apply to non-interstate roads within Missouri. If you wish to haul at 100,000 lbs. on the interstate must obtain a permit from MoDOT Motor Carrier Services at 1-866-831-6277. Always abide by trailer manufacturer and any weight-restricted bridge limits.
The Hours of Service exemption applies to corn, ethanol, DDGS, additional feedstock, fertilizer, and other inputs, as they are part of the FMCSA declaration and required to be used for the manufacture of essential items.
The Risk Management Agency (RMA) authorized additional flexibilities due to coronavirus while continuing to support producers, working through Approved Insurance Providers (AIPs) to deliver federal crop insurance services, including processing policies, claims and agreements. These flexibilities include enabling producers to send notifications and reports electronically, extending the date for production reports and providing additional time, and deferring interest on premium and other payments. For more details visit RMA’s press release. Farmers with crop insurance questions or needs should continue to contact their insurance agents about conducting business remotely by telephone or email.
Private Pesticide Applicator Training Available via Video, Mail
In light of the COVID-19 situation, private pesticide applicator training has been shifted to online video training or through the mail. The Missouri Department of Agriculture and EPA are offering the two methods in place of in-person training for completing the Private Pesticide Applicator Training (PPAT). Applicators have the option to participate in a Zoom video teleconference or by corresponding through regular mail. Applicators are asked to register online for the Zoom meeting. Certificates will be mailed to those who complete the course.
Resources from National Organizations
- USDA resources
- NCGA tips for farmers to manage COVID-19 on the farm.
- NCGA podcast on input availability with Nutrien Ag Solutions CEO Mike Frank.
- NCGA op ed in Farm Journal on the sentiment in rural America.
- USGC Remains committed to global customers during COVID-19 Pandemic
- USGC Letter to Global Customers