If you follow Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association on Facebook or Twitter, you probably already saw news of our meeting with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Senator John Cornyn yesterday. TSCRA’s second vice president, Arthur Uhl, represented the association, one of only a handful of organizations invited to the roundtable to discuss issues with the two national leaders. In attendance were the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Plains Cotton Growers, Texas Farm Bureau and Southwest Council of Agribusiness.
The conversation was largely focused on the best ways to assist Texas agriculture producers amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Earlier this year, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provided direct assistance to cattle producers impacted the sharp decline in cattle prices. USDA was responsible for implementing the program, which it termed the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP.
Now, Congress is working on another aid package. Sen. Cornyn and Secretary Perdue wanted to hear from Texas producers to help guide their efforts on the new legislation. One of their big questions to the attendees was how CFAP could be improved.
In our response, we asked for additional flexibility on the April 15 cutoff date for Part 1 sales assistance, which left out many producers. Using his own operation as an example, Uhl explained that for those who market in the fall or who chose to hold onto their cattle, the financial impact of COVID-19 is still forthcoming. Secretary Perdue addressed the date concern and was optimistic that it could be fixed in the next assistance package.
We took the opportunity to push for the inclusion of specific proposals that could help shield cow-calf producers from a coronavirus resurgence or other future catastrophic events. As an industry, we are working towards meaningful solutions for better price discovery, but it is also critical to maintain processing capacity. The slowdown at major packers created a backlog of cattle that the industry is still working through. In his comments, Uhl asked the Senate that future assistance include grants for small processors to become federally inspected, allow small processors to sell state-inspected meat across state lines through e-commerce, and waive overtime fees for federal meat inspectors. These measures will work in concert to afford cattle producers and small, regional packers to expand their marketing channels. Most importantly, and unlike some other proposals, these specific measures will allow expansion without compromising our strict safety standards.
A number of other issues were raised, including the ability to open Conservation Reserve Program acreage for emergency haying and grazing, the possibility of a set-aside program to reduce cattle backlogs, CFAP payment limits and additional resources for the USDA Farm Service Agency, which is the agency tasked with processing CFAP applications.
Overall, it was a fantastic opportunity to ensure our concerns will be addressed in the next round of coronavirus assistance, and the ideas brought forth by everyone in attendance were well received by Senator Cornyn and Secretary Perdue. In fact, we may see some of the things discussed in Senate legislation as soon as the next two weeks.
Work on the fifth round of coronavirus assistance has already started in Washington. The Democratic-controlled House passed their version, the HEROES Act, back in June. However, the Senate ridiculed the bill as a “liberal wish list,” and dismissed it in favor of crafting their own legislation. If predictions are correct, they will try to do so before the start of the August recess on August 10, 2020.
In other news, there was a primary runoff election this week. A big thank you to all of you who got out to vote, and congrats to the TSCRA supported candidates who are moving on to the general election. I think we are all ready for a break from the campaign stuff for now, so I’ll save the rest of my analysis and commentary for later.
This week, there was an extension on the emergency declaration that provides hours of service exemptions for livestock and feed haulers. The emergency declaration now goes until midnight on Aug. 14, 2020. More info can be found here.
Finally, many of you have probably seen the ridiculous Burger King ad campaign on their “efforts” to solve climate change by feeding lemongrass to cattle. I’m not going to further their reach by including a link, but it makes light of the real-world work by ranchers, farmers and scientists through a silly song and a bunch of stereotypes. We are among the chorus of producers and organizations across the country pushing back on their absurdity and ensuring consumers know the truth about ranching!
I think that’s all for this week. Until next time!
Jeremy Fuchs is the director of public affairs for Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.