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COVID-19 relief for farmers: what’s available now and what’s coming next? | The Spokesman Speaks Podcast, Episode 45

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Welcome to Episode 45 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. In this episode, Iowa Farm Bureau’s senior economist (Dr. Sam Funk) walks through the COVID-19 assistance that’s currently available to farmers and Iowa Farm Bureau’s national policy advisor (Daniel Heady) discusses additional federal relief that could be available to farmers in the weeks to come.

Below are some of the resources referred to in this episode:

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Narrator: Since 1934 Iowa's farmers have turned to the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman as their trusted news source. Now the Spokesman Speaks. Listen in and hear from leading experts on topics important to farmers and agriculture. Now here's your host.

Delaney Howell: Welcome to the June 26th edition of the Spokesman Speaks podcast. I'm Delaney Howell. Today's episode features discussions about the COVID-19 relief that's currently available to farmers and the additional relief that could be on its way from the federal government in the weeks to come. I realize you've been bombarded by COVID-19 updates over the past couple of months. And sometimes all those announcements just make things more confusing, which relief programs are still available, which one suits my operation and what's coming next. For those answers, we turn to Dr. Sam Funk, Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Economist and Daniel Heady, Iowa Farm Bureau's National Policy Advisor. Let's start things off here with Dr. Funk. Spokesman editor, Dirck Steimel reached out to him for an update on key assistance programs.

Dirk Steimel: We're here with Dr. Sam Funk, Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Economist, to discuss federal and state programs that I will farmers can access to help deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sam, one of the main assistance programs is the federal government's Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Also known as CFAP, which is being administered by USDA and provides direct payments to crop and livestock farmers give us a high level overview of that program and the opportunity it offers for Iowa farmers.

Dr. Sam Funk: The CFAP program obviously was a direct response through USDA, looking at primarily what had been price impacts from the coronavirus. And this program was meant for a number of agricultural commodities, which were impacted with a price response of a very significant magnitude. Now it doesn't get all the commodities at this point in time, there's still some discussion going on for like eggs. If you think about shell eggs, and we produce a lot of eggs here, a majority of Iowa's egg production actually goes to liquid eggs, which was impacted by losses of restaurant and food service materials. So you're not necessarily getting all of Iowa commodities covered, but a large share of them. You've got payments that are for non-specialty crops payments that are for hogs payments that are for cattle. And a lot of that program is designed to mitigate various levels of losses, depending on how USDA calculated out what those price responses might've been throughout the system. So it's not always uniform, but there's a lot of payment programs out there for a lot of Iowa agricultural commodities,

Dirk Steimel: August 28th is the deadline to apply for the CFAP program. What's the best way for farmers to get more information on that program and to enroll in it.

Dr. Sam Funk: You know, obviously the starting point there is farmers.gov. So it's farmers.gov, and that is actually the website portal for USDA to be able to have outreach programs directly to farmers. And in this case, you're going to find links on there that are going to take you to farmers.gov/cfap CFAP. You will be able to find all sorts of information about that Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and including that you'll have links there to go into the application as well. How this one is structured and again, it came on very fast, just like the legislation moved through in a very fast paced time frame. USDA went through in a very fast pace as well to put this program together and then to get these resources online. So you'll have access to an Excel spreadsheet on there, which will actually help you to answer a lot of questions to the fill in information, which will then populate your application. These are going to go through your farm service agency office. The other aspect is that there's going to be a lot of livestock producers who this may be their first foray into some payment structures with a federal program, but your farmers.gov/cfap, or just reach out to your local FSA office and they'll be glad to help you.

Dirk Steimel: The Small Business Administration also has a couple of relief programs that are available to farmers, including the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. How do these programs work?

Dr. Sam Funk: Well, the first thing is it's probably easier that we you'll hear a lot of people talk about the PPP program being the Paycheck Protection Program, and then the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, EIDL. And I know we all work on a lot of acronyms with these federal programs, but this is very unique for agriculture, the SBA, the U.S. Small Business Administration. Hasn't worked as readily with a lot of agricultural programs in the past. And so this was very unique to them. And one of the aspects that we had here with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation was to reach out directly to SBA into our local SBA representatives around the state of Iowa, to make sure that we understood how this was going fully implemented in the state as well. And to make sure that our producers had the opportunity to be able to participate. So let's start off with that Paycheck Protection Program, which was probably the most significant one that we had for agriculture through this. It's really designed if you think about in a large scale basis for businesses to be able to provide a continuation of their payroll for their employees. So there are opportunities here and was expanded to be able to include agriculture in there. And that was something that Farm Bureau through the American Farm Bureau Federation had a lot of input to make sure that agriculture would be included in that. Because if you think about it, there is a definite business aspect of this one. And even a lot of farms who have those payrolls that they still had to meet because the production of agricultural goods did not cease because of coronavirus. Especially if you think about some of the livestock feeding operations, they still had to operate it and they still have payroll to make. And so that economic slowdown was very significant for a lot of agricultural operations. I want to make sure that everybody's really understanding here, the Paycheck Protection Program or the EIDL the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. These are really programs that are loans with some portions that have very special features to them. So if you're going to work with the SBA program, and because SBA in the past, hasn't been as directly integrated into agriculture. A lot of these will work through your local lender or through maybe farm credit. So there are banks, there are lending institutions, there are farm credits who are engaging with SBA. And a lot of these programs, you can obviously go online to sba.gov that's for the Small Business Administration. You can find information right there on the Paycheck Protection Program or on the EIDL. Another aspect, and what I would encourage everybody to do is to talk to their lender, a lot of these programs, because they have integration with loans. That's very important. They might be administered through your bank. In fact, with like PPP, you're going to get that through a lender. They're working with cooperating lenders to be able to do that. So it really helps to understand what is the impact of this program. And by every reason you should talk to your lender, if you're going to look at these programs, because your lender may also have programs that are in place for you to talk about existing loans that you have, that might help you to manage cashflow or manage some of your working capital position throughout this coronavirus period as well. So starting with your lender could be a good place or going to the sba.gov, whether you're talking about the Paycheck Protection Program or the EIDL.

Dirk Steimel: Sam, is there a deadline for farmers to apply for either of these SBA programs?

Dr. Sam Funk: Deadlines become one of those interesting aspects. You think first off about how quickly these programs are fast and what changing programs could look like, which is obviously something that Farm Bureau is very engaged in as well. So there are deadlines, and there are also limitations based on how much funding is available through some of these programs. So it's important that if you want to start off soon that you start off by contacting and looking through the sba.gov or visiting with your local lender for what some of those requirements and time frames are. So you can make sure you could in through there.

Dirk Steimel: Sam, the state government has also been active in creating relief assistance for farmers, including a disposal assistance program for hog farmers, unable to harvest their pigs due to the COVID-19 supply chain disruptions. Can you talk a little a bit about the state assistance that's available to farmers right now, as we head into July and how farmers can learn about their options at the state level?

Dr. Sam Funk: The best thing to do at the state level right now, if you're thinking about some of the impacts is to really reach out to the Iowa Resource Coordination Center, you're going to find out what programs may be available. So right now, some of the payment programs to assist in disposal, if anyone had pigs that they weren't able to get to market, and that's first off, let's all right up front and say, that's what no farmer and nobody out there wanted to have to face. That's a gut wrenching option and a last resort. But if they were faced with that, there were programs that were in place to help with some of the costs that might've been inferred with disposal. The first thing is they had to make sure they had everything in place to humanely, go with the population and then to look at the disposal costs.

Dr. Sam Funk: And so there was a lot of coordination first off with IDALS with IDNR to make sure that they had everything in plans in place for how to regular everything through there. The Iowa Resource Coordination Center was a, if you will, the first place to go to help to make things more understandable and more readily available for resources to help producers to understand what their options were. The first thing obviously is to look at their marketing alternative. In this case, the payment programs you already had to apply for the rounds that had been engaged in for the famous. So there's not a currently ongoing round as of the time that we're recording this. If there's anything else that comes on though, going through the IDALS website, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship website at IowaAgriculture.gov is a great place to see any more of those impacts. And also with any of these programs to listen to the Spokesman Speaks podcast, to watch your Spokesman on the weekly basis, to see the stories that are coming up, because as these programs come forward, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation is going to be working for our members to make sure that they're informed and have as much information and educational materials available about these programs for how to interact with what might first be able to positively benefit their operations.

Delaney Howell: We certainly appreciate that rundown from Dr. Funk, lots of good information there. One quick note, though, on the Paycheck Protection Program that Sam referenced, we realize that as of the recording of this podcast episode, the deadline to apply for PPP is coming up very soon on June 30th. Of course, that deadline could always be extended as we've seen with other COVID-19 relief programs. So we'd encourage you to check out sba.gov for the latest on their relief offerings and deadlines. And I think that Sam made a good recommendation there as well about following up with your own lender for information as well. Since the Small Business Administration Programs, he referenced are actually loan programs. Of course, the other important federal program Dr. Funk mentioned was the CFAP or Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. That program is being administered by USDA, and you can learn how to sign up for it at farmers.gov/cfap or by contacting your county FSA office. On the state side of things, Sam referred to the Iowa Resource Coordination Center. As the hub for livestock farmers who need assistance, you can reach that center iowafarmerhelp.com or call (515) 725-1005. Again, that number is (515) 725-1005. And of course the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Farm Bureau are also good sources to keep you posted on new state assistance that may become available. Now, let's turn our attention to what we might be able to anticipate in a future COVID relief package coming from the federal government for that Dirck spoke with Iowa Farm Bureau's national policy advisor, Daniel Heady.

Dirk Steimel: Daniel, the American Farm Bureau recently called on Congress to provide additional assistance to help farmers survive the shockwave caused by COVID-19. What are the main elements of Farm Bureau's requests, especially the elements that are most important to Iowa farmers?

Daniel Heady: Yeah, so we've made a number of requests to Congress. Obviously it's focused on all of agriculture across the whole country, but first and foremost, to CFAP program while it works pretty well for most people only covers relief for losses up until April 15th. So we're urging Congress to make sure that adequate funding is available to provide relief for farmers who have encountered losses since that date. And up until that date it's important that we make sure that, you know, all of our losses are covered and not just by one arbitrary date. And so we're asking them to make sure that those losses that have taken place after April 15th are extended. We're also asking to make sure funds are available for all crops, including specialty crops. You know, we've got a few specialty crop farmers here in Iowa and make, make sure those folks are covered as well. As well as your traditional corn and beans and livestock producers. We're also asking for USDA to be able to have additional dollars to use in a manner in which they see fit. They did this in the first package and the CARES package that was able to allow USDA to be more flexible with how they spent money. And as far as assistant producers, a good chunk of the cattle payments came out of that flexible money. So we're asking for, for more of that, we're also asking for money to go specifically to state departments of agriculture, to help deal with local problems. It's important that the folks that are closest to farmers have the resources they need in order to aid the farmers in their state. Another piece that we're really looking after and trying to make sure that we help survive as the biofuels industry, we've been asking Congress and the CARES package and this next phase to support biofuel producers and production facilities, to make sure that, you know, we have that incredibly important market for our corn and soybeans. On the livestock side, some additional things that we're pushing our for opening CRP, emergency haying, and grazing. We believe that USDA already has the authority to do that, but it's much cleaner if we have Congress authorize it. And we're also asking them to waive overtime fees for food safety and inspection service, meat inspectors, and small and medium sized packing plants to make sure that we still have the packing capacity that we had before. You know, all of this happened and to help pick up the slack. On a, not necessarily on the farm side of things you were asking for more support for rural health centers make sure they're fully operational at this time. The way the virus has been spreading is from more populous areas to less populous areas. And so we really see a need in the future to make sure rural health centers are supported. We're also, you know, this is a critical time for rural broadband. I think this pandemic more than anything else has highlighted the need for us all to be connected. Every single person in the country needs to be able to be connected. And so we're asking Congress to make sure they appropriate significant funding for rural broadband development that essentially erases the digital divide between urban and rural areas.

Dirk Steimel: How is Farm Bureau impressing upon Congress, the urgency of this situation to help our lawmakers understand just how much this assistance is needed?

Daniel Heady: You know, we've been really fortunate to hold multiple conversations with our members of Congress, you know, Farm Bureau. We're lucky that we have the ear of our entire congressional delegation. They all really do care what farmers are doing and what they think. And, and so we've held multiple conversations and member meetings with our members of Congress. You know, we had Senator Grassley on this very podcast two months ago, talking about what he's doing. We've been fortunate to have Senator Ernst on a number of different member calls. She's also held ag specific town halls with Secretary Naig and via Facebook live also with, with a good chunk of our members. And our house delegation has also reached out and we've talked with Congresswoman Acne correspond and thinking our Congressman Loebsack and Congressman King is obviously in tune with what's going on as well. So we've had a, had a real good opportunity to have an open line of communication with our members of Congress directly. And we're also maintaining our normal congressional outreach through their staffs. Both me and our board has also spoken with congressional offices and our membership in general, you know, the everyday rank and file Farm Bureau members. You know, they've been doing a good job of going to either virtual town halls or tele town halls, or even on the, in the few in-person town halls that we've had. You know, our membership has always shows up whenever there they need to. So, you know, member advocacy is still very important through all of this. You know, the way we advocate has changed in the sense that we may not be going into congressional offices and person who may not be attending town halls in person, but the phone calls, emails, letters the ways in which we traditionally have communicated with our members, not face to face are still just as important as they were beforehand, if not more, so now.

Dirk Steimel: Members of the Iowa delegation have said they expect Congress to consider and potentially pass an additional assistance package for farmers sometime this summer. Do you have any feel for when Congress could act on additional assistance?

Daniel Heady: Yeah. You know, that's the million, or I guess depending on the size of the package, the billion or trillion dollar question, right? Congress, like all of us is trying to figure out how to return to normal. As of today, members of the congressional staff are working from home. They're not holding any in person meetings and in the Capitol right now, there's a new congressional schedule that is different than what it was, you know, when they first released it in January. And other legislative issues are taking up space and floor time, for example right now we're talking a lot about police reform. And so those are the things that are really slowing down and putting into question how fast a package is going to be done, but let's not forget this is also an election year. Things can move very quickly or very slowly, depending on how much Congress thinks it's going to help their election chances. So, you know, there's, there's a lot of, a lot of factors to consider. And it's obviously a moving target. I think the key thing to watch is how does the reopening of the economy go? I believe that Congress wants us to be the final major aid package that they pass this year. So they want to make sure they get it right. They don't want to do this bill and bits and pieces or small packages. They want to know what the full impact is going to be before they pass anything. You know, from an ag agricultural standpoint, we pretty much know where we're at, but there's other sectors of the economy that still need time to determine what it is they're going to need. So that obviously is going to delay the package. My sense is that they'll try to get something done by the August recess, so by the end of July, however, I don't know how realistic that is. You know, I'm almost positive. They'll get something done by election day for obvious reasons. So sometime, you know, you, you would think between the 4th of July and the 3rd of November, but you know, I obviously, I think they want to get it done in a timely manner. So, you know, the downside with the delayed action is obviously it won't address the needs we have right this moment. But with time, we'll have a better idea of what the full scope of aid is going to need to be. It also gives us time to make sure we have the appropriate relief needed for our farmers. So that's sort of the lay of the land at the moment. Obviously with Congress, things are always changing. So hopefully I'm wrong and that that's something happens as summer. So we have a little bit more certainty going into harvest season, but you know, it's, it's looking like that might get pushed back and delayed a little more

Delaney Howell: Well as usual, it's hard to know exactly when Congress will act, but I think that in listening to Daniel, you get the sense that Iowa's elected officials are well aware of agriculture's urgent needs. Now it's up to groups like Iowa Farm Bureau and you as the individual farmer to continue sharing ag's need and help get another relief package to the finish line. Speaking of finish line, we've reached the finish line for this episode of the Spokesman Speaks. I'm Delaney Howell, and if you have gained something valuable from this episode, I'd encourage you to make sure you're subscribed to the Spokesman Speaks podcast and join us for our next regularly scheduled episode on July 13th. Until next time, I hope you stay safe, protect your loved ones and find new ways of responding to the challenges of feeding our neighbors in Iowa and all around the globe. Thanks for reading the Spokesman and thanks for listening to the Spokesman Speaks.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to the Spokesman Speaks, a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcasts and articles from the Spokesman at iowafarmbureau.com/Spokesman. You can also find and subscribe to the Spokesman Speaks Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at podcast@ifbf.org.

About The Spokesman Speaks Podcast

Since 1934,  The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it is the largest circulation ag newspaper in Iowa. While the Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, reaching farmers on-the-go with stories that matter to them. You can  find episodes of the podcast here or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneInRadio, or Radio.com.

We typically release new podcast episodes every other Monday. Episode 46 will be released on July 13, 2020.



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