Welcome to Episode 55 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. In this episode, we discuss CFAP 2 (the second round of coronavirus relief now available to farmers through USDA) with American Farm Bureau Chief Economist John Newton. We also meet the new head of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Iowa (incoming State Conservationist Jon Hubbert) to discuss his new role, his perspective on conservation in Iowa, some relief that’s available to farmers hit by this summer’s derecho, and more.


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Resource referred to in this episode
  • Sign up for USDA's Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) at Farmers.gov/CFAP
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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.

Andrew Wheeler: Welcome to the October 5th edition of the Spokesman Speaks podcast. I'm Andrew Wheeler and today's episode features insight into CFAP 2, which is the second round of coronavirus relief. Now available to farmers through the USDA, as well as an introduction to John Hubert, who was recently named the new state conservationist for Iowa. We'll start with CFAP 2 Spokesman editor, Dirck Steimel recently called up American Farm Bureau, Chief Economist, Dr. John Newton, to discuss the USDA relief program, including the kind of assistance that's available and what farmers need to do to get signed up now.

Dirck Steimel: We're here with John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation to discuss the coronavirus food assistance program, including a new round of payments known as CFAP 2. John, I'd like to start with a more general question. Why has CFAP been such a significant lifeline for farmers to help offset some of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dr. John Newton: Well, I think the key word there is economic fallout in March when this was declared a global pandemic. States across the country, immediately shut down, restaurants shut down. Schools issued, stay at home orders, social distancing guidelines. And we saw restaurant sales and food service sales declined by 90% month over month. So I think that shows you just how dramatic the decline and the disruption to the supply chain that we saw just on food service. You add into that gasoline demand, the impact that that had on ethanol plant profitability. And in turn corn prices, you talk about meat plants that had to shut down around the country, creating a backlog of animals and depressing farm prices for cattle and hogs and dairy. And you talk about farmers that were preparing to harvest their fruits and vegetables. It lost a market and in some cases had to plow under completely good high quality produce.

Dirck Steimel: The USDA recently announced the details of the second round of CFAP for a wide range of farmers. What are some of the highlights of the second round John?

Dr. John Newton: Well, I think the major takeaway from the second round, we saw that the first round covered losses really that occurred prior to April 15th. This second round of the program is designed to cover losses that have occurred after April 15th for our row crops. It's going to cover our new crop, commodities, corn soybeans, wheat, cotton, grain, sorghum, all classes of wheat. And so this is going to cover the new crop. Whereas the first round of CFAP provided assistance for your old crop commodities. CFAP also includes an additional payment for dairy farms, as well as a per head payment for cattle, hogs, lamb, and sheep. And then we have a variety of specialty crops and specialty livestock, aquaculture, and nursery crops that are also eligible for CFAP 2.0

Dirck Steimel: Were there areas of the new CFAP program that covered things that were missing and lost in the initial CFF program, John.

Dr. John Newton: Without a doubt, there's a variety of commodities that USDA didn't have enough price information to provide assistance under CFAP 1 and those have been included in CFAP 2. We think about industrial hemp is now eligible for a minimum payment of $15 per acre. Extra-long staple cotton is now eligible for CFAP 2.0. Poultry producers, If you're an independent poultry producer, you're eligible for a payment of a dollar and 1 cent per bird. So there are more commodities now eligible for CFAP 2. There's still some folks are left out of this. I think about our contract poultry producers that may have seen the number of flocks placed in their chicken houses reduced this year because of COVID-19. So there's still more work to be done in terms of getting help for those that need it. But this C5 2.0 is a significant improvement and expansion in terms of covering producers.

Dirck Steimel: Is there any yield data, livestock information or other paperwork that farmers should have ready as they get ready to sign up for this second round, John?

Dr. John Newton: Well, my contacts at USDA tell me that that FSA should be able to pull all of that information for the grower. So that means they're going to have access to either your Clarke County historical yields, cause that's a county level number. They'll also have access to your 2020 weighted average APH yield. So FSA will have that information but you know, it's always prudent to make sure you have your records in order to when you go into these offices. So, if you have information that can complement or support what FSA is able to gather, I'm sure that will expedite the application process.

Dirck Steimel: John, there's been a lot of talk about another round of CFAP yet this year. What do you think the political prospects are for passing some sort of measure on that?

Dr. John Newton: Well, I think it's been something that the folks on Capitol Hill and been working on for some time trying to find some sort of common ground on what the next stimulus package may look like. I mean, this goes all the way back to prior to Memorial Day. I think folks on Capitol Hill wanted to see what the macro or the larger U.S. economy would do as States start to relax their social distancing and stay at home orders. And so they move through different phases of reopening. That's helped to energize some sectors of the economy. We still haven't seen restaurant and food service jump back up. Leisure and hospitality is not anywhere near where it used to be. But I think folks on Capitol Hill wanted to see how the U.S. economy recovered from this before doing another $2 trillion or $3 trillion stimulus package. I think that Republicans were more conservative in their expenditures are less than a trillion. Whereas I think Democrats had the next round of stimulus somewhere in the neighborhood of two to two and a half trillion dollars. So I think they're, they've got to figure out a number that works, figure out how far the stimulus is going to go. And, you know, I hope that we get, you know, some sort of compromise soon, but at the same time, what we're less than 40 days or so out from an election. So things could change.

Dirck Steimel: Finally, John, the CFAP program, as you noted, has been instrumental, are there signs that the agriculture is picking up? Are there pieces that are picking up as we move through this pandemic?

Dr. John Newton: Well, we've seen the disruption that we saw the most impact immediately was our meat packing facilities and through access to personal protective equipment through use of plexiglass and distancing in our meat processing facilities that sector has recovered in terms of their processing capacity. We do still have a pretty significant backlog of animals. That's going to continue to weigh on the farmer prices. So I think, I think you see that sector coming back, but again, there's a long road ahead of it. And I think we still have a lot of uncertainty in the dairy space. A lot of dairy products went through those restaurant channels and then for our row crops our corn or soybeans have, have benefited from, from pretty strong new crop export numbers. Soybeans, I think are sitting somewhere around 1.3 billion bushels. That's the highest at this point in the marketing year, going back more than a decade, same thing with corn, there are more than 800 million bushels on the books for export. So that's helped to lift those new crop prices, slightly, some steams come out of in the last week or so, but the unfavorable weather we had in August and then the strong export sales really helped to buoy those prices. But you know, let's just two of many other commodities that continue to face challenges.

Andrew Wheeler: We appreciate having Dr. Newton back on the podcast. And now that he's given you the basics, your next step is to head out to Farmers.gov/CFAP, which is Farmers.gov/CFAP and complete the application process. You can do that anytime between now and the application deadline on December 11th. Switching gears, let's meet the new head of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Iowa. Dirck Steimel called up incoming state conservationist, John Hubert to discuss his new role, his perspective on conservation in Iowa, some relief that's available to farmers hit by this summer's derecho and more.

Dirck Steimel: We're here with John Hubert who was recently selected as Iowa state's conservationists were helped manage the state office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. John has been with NRCS for more than three decades with the last 10 years in Iowa, the last four years, he's been the agency's Assistant State Conservationist for Programs. John will begin his new position on October 11th and will manage a staff of about 500 employees at more than a hundred and RCS offices across Iowa. John, thanks for joining us on the Spokesman Speaks podcast. I'd like to start with a more general question. Tell us about the progress that Iowa farmers are making on improving water quality and conserving our state's top soil through the Iowa nutrient reduction strategy and how is NRCS playing a part in the adoption of that strategy?

John Hubert: Well, thanks Dirck for that question. And first of all, it's a pleasure to be here and to join the listeners through this segment. I do want to point out that there's been tremendous progress with voluntary conservation efforts across Iowa. Producers have really risen to the challenge of doing what they can to improve water quality. They have done a lot on in field practices, as well as edge of field practices. NRCS has been playing a valuable role in that process by providing both technical support or the science kind of behind some of the conservation practices that are helping with water quality. But we've also been able to provide a significant amounts of financial assistance. That's been matched up with what the state can offer through their programs to help producers to make that step, to help them to test different strategies on their farms that will, will enable them to do more on water quality. And of course on our end, we want to make sure that we're not only addressing the water quality issues, but we're keeping that farmer and they also this, but they have to maintain production food, fuel, and fiber as well as remain profitable in order for them to stay in business. So the protection is just the third P in the, in the three important P's of farming production, profit, and then protection. So we, we try to help with all three of those. If we're offering practices that are not helping them meet the production and profit sides of their business then we're not doing everything that we need to. So we try to make sure that we're adding all three of those. And we like working with other partners in that process to help the, the, in the grower themselves meet their needs. So we can pair up with other commodity groups with other, with co-ops with other technical service providers that that producer has in mind.

Dirck Steimel: John, why is the farmer driven conservation model so important for implementing conservation practices that are needed to improve water quality and reduce soil loss across Iowa?

John Hubert: Well, there's a lot of reasons for that Dirck and I think first and foremost is, is because the farmers are invested in their land as well as invested in their communities. They care about taking care of both voluntary conservation. To me, is an approach that keeps the best qualified people in the decision making process. And that's the land owners and operators that are actually doing their best to do what they can to protect as well as that production and profit on their end. Making sure that we do all three is going to be critical as we move forward to solutions and the way that we approach agriculture in the United States. And that's going to be an ongoing go and making sure that we do it correctly.

Dirck Steimel: In August, the large swath of Iowa was hit by the devastating derecho. I understand that NRCS has established some emergency conservation provisions for farmers who were affected by the storm. Can you explain those?

John Hubert: Yeah. Briefly the biggest program would be the crop insurance program. That's not an NRCS program. There's also some assistance programs that are available through the Farm Services Agency. On our end, we have environmental quality incentives program support that is available to help with cover crops that will develop when seeded in the fall that are to help protect that field from erosion in case they had to do some tillage to get rid of the crop aftermath that was there. Obviously if they don't need to do tillage, that's not something that we would encourage in our end. So that's something that we'll work with them on whatever works the best on their farm. We also have assistance available through equip for high tunnels that were potentially destroyed or damaged during the process. And that would be a seasonal high tunnel, which would be a way to grow. Typically, vegetable crops in Iowa is what we use those for mostly. And also on livestock facilities where there's a manure pack barns, that what we call hoop houses or Monticello buildings, if they were damaged, we also have assistance to help with repairing those damages. And then in our regular equip program we won't have additional dollars for this, but we can still take applications for a windbreak repairs and tree plantings within that program. So if we have forestry producers that have had significant damage we can help with replanting in that situation. And I think on the third leg of that where there are impacts with relation to compliance or conservation compliance requirements that is something that they need to definitely work closely with our local field offices to coordinate their plans and make sure that we can keep them in compliance long-term.

Dirck Steimel: The NRCS recently announced some staff additions and reorganizations to improve service to farmers in Iowa. How will those changes affect farmers interactions with the NRCS office?

John Hubert: The changes in large Dirck helped us to place one district conservationist in every County and every one of our offices across Iowa which is going to be a designated point of contact for the producers in that County. In some cases we had offices that were pretty well staffed and in other cases it was kind of lean. And with the reorganization, we're going to have one point of contact in every office, and then we're going to have our offices organized from a technical standpoint. They're going to be in a four County unit that provides that technical support that with that four County unit and specialization allowed within that, we're going to be able to have technical specialists that are more focused in, on the special needs. As a, for instance, in our previous structure, we would not be able to have a grazing specialist in every office, but in our new structure where we have grazing as a need. We will be able to put a grazing specialist in the office and that four County management unit our technical team that will allow us to provide a better service to those customers with that specialty need. As we get into workload fluctuations, having the four County teams will allow us to move staff within that four County area really easily to meet the workload needs where we have a high workload in one County as opposed to another we'll have that mobility of staff. So I think ultimately it's going to work to a much stronger technical team available to our producers and the contact point at the local level will be more consistent than what we've had in the past. So we're looking forward to that transition and also still looking for feedback from producers on how we can make that even better. As we continue with the transition process.

Dirck Steimel: John, the NRCS recently announced that it is implementing a new nationwide rule, which modifies conservation compliance requirements for wetlands and highly erodible land. When will that be implemented and what changes will farmers see from the new rule?

John Hubert: So the new rule was actually published on August 28th of 2020, and it's in effect now that was previously announced as an interim rule. So with this publication, it actually became the final rule at this point some key points about that is that USDA is going to be making additional coordination to try to include the effected person, whether that's the land owner or the operator, or both on any onsite investigations that are conducted prior to finalizing a wetland violation technical determination, which basically means that we're going to try to engage that local farmer or land owner in the process before we finalize the determination. It also allows for further clarification on how wetland hydrology has identified for farmed wetlands and farm wetland pastures. It adds clarification's to the consideration of what it means to be best drained, which is a critical definition for making a wetland determination and best drain condition related to wetland. Hydrology is the key factor there. And that is in keeping with the definition of what a prior converted cropland or prior converted wetland is. And then finally relocating the provision act wetland determinations can be done on a track field or subfield basis, depending on what the producer is requesting in order to improve the clarity of how that's done. I would say also that NRCS continues to use a science based approach to conduct conduct determinations for producers and to evaluate whether the identified property contains any wetlands or highly erodible lands. And we've considered with this final rule feedback from both farmers, ranchers foresters from Congress and from other stakeholders in that process. So at this point is it is in effect and we are implementing it now.

Andrew Wheeler: Well, thank you, John. Is there anything else you'd like to say as you begin your services Iowa State Conservationists?

John Hubert: Dirck, I think it's important to say that we continue to do our best to work with our producers in Iowa to meet their needs to look at how we can help them to meet resource concerns on their land, as well as resource concerns that others have that they want to help with. So that's going to be an ongoing, ongoing goal of ours. As we continue with the COVID situation, we want to open up our doors is to the extent that we can that is safe for our employees and say for our customers as well. We have some electronic means that they can contact us with that are going to continue to be utilized, to do the Farmers.gov. That's an ongoing availability, but if we have producers that have signed up for that, we can work them through that process to get them enrolled so they can do business with us online. And I would say the other thing is that we really want to make sure that we're continuing that communication at the local level. So if a producer has a question go to your local office work with them they'll work with us at the state level, if there's questions that they need to raise up to our level, but if there are concerns, we stand ready to do what we can to help improve that communication process down the road. So it's a, it's a pleasure to be stepping into this role. And I look forward to doing that into serving the farmers and our partner conservation partners in Iowa in the days and months ahead.

Andrew Wheeler: Lots of things on John's plate as he gets started in his new position. We definitely appreciate him carving out time to join us on the podcast. And we wish him luck in his new role as State Conservationist for Iowa. With that, we'll wrap up this episode of the Spokesman Speaks Podcast. If you've got some extra windshield time during the harvest, I definitely encourage you to stay right here with us and catch up on other recent Spokesman Speaks episodes, including an episode we recorded with Senator Joni Ernst in late September. Thanks for doing the work that we all depend upon. 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 and expert advice that matter. 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.