Additional Commodities Eligible for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program

A news release yesterday from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “Today, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced an initial list of additional commodities that have been added to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made other adjustments to the program based on comments received from agricultural producers and organizations and review of market data. Producers will be able to submit applications that include these commodities on Monday, July 13, 2020.  USDA’s [FSA] is accepting through Aug. 28, 2020, applications for CFAP, which helps offset price declines and additional marketing costs because of the coronavirus pandemic. USDA expects additional eligible commodities to be announced in the coming weeks.

“‘During this time of national crisis, President Trump and USDA have stood with our farmers, ranchers, and all citizens to make sure they are taken care of,’ said Secretary Perdue. ‘When we announced this program earlier this year, we asked for public input and received a good response. After reviewing the comments received and analyzing our USDA Market News data, we are adding new commodities, as well as making updates to the program for existing eligible commodities. This is an example of government working for the people – we asked for input and we updated the program based on the comments we received.’

“USDA collected comments and supporting data for consideration of additional commodities through June 22, 2020.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “Producers have several options for applying to the CFAP program:

  • Using an online portal, accessible at farmers.gov/cfap, allows producers with secure USDA login credentials—known as eAuthentication—to certify eligible commodities online, digitally sign applications and submit directly to the local USDA Service Center.  New commodities will be available in the system on July 13, 2020.
  • Completing the application form using our CFAP Application Generator and Payment Calculator found at farmers.gov/cfap. This Excel workbook allows customers to input information specific to their operation to determine estimated payments and populate the application form, which can be printed, then signed and submitted to their local USDA Service Center.  An updated version with the new commodities will be available on the website on July 13, 2020.
  • Downloading the AD-3114 application form from farmers.gov/cfap and manually completing the form to submit to the local USDA Service Center by mail, electronically or by hand delivery to an office drop box. In some limited cases, the office may be open for in-person business by appointment. Visit farmers.gov/coronavirus/service-center-status to check the status of your local office.”

 

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Global Merger and Acquisition Deal Volume About Half of 2020

Bryce Elder reported earlier this month at The Financial Times Online that, “It has been a rotten year for bid rumours and a rotten year for bids.

Global merger and acquisition deal volume nearly halved year-on-year in the first six months of 2020 to $1.1tn, according to Dealogic data. That is the lowest haul in at least 15 years. Reasons for the slump are obvious enough. Covid has erased revenues and played havoc with profit forecasts, while market volatility has outfoxed even the most predatory of buyers.

“Lockdowns have also had a chilling effect on the free flow of speculation. With bars closed and international travel rationed, the peripatetic types who trade stock market ideas found themselves with nowhere to go. And though chat continued over the encrypted messaging services, there was suddenly a lot less to talk about.”

The FT article noted that, “Life always finds a way, however, and the second half has already thrown up its first unlikely bid rumour: Apache, the Houston-based oil and gas company, was said to have been working with advisers on putting together a bid for UK peer Premier Oil. Both companies declined to comment.”

Mr. Elder added that, “Though stocks have rebounded on central bank support, the outlook for corporate earnings remains murky. But while credit keeps getting cheaper for companies that do not need it, there are still some easy pickings for buyers among those companies that do. What little M&A there is, will probably be confined to the bargain bin.”

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Judge Casts Doubt on Bayer’s Roundup Settlement

Wall Street Journal writer Sara Randazzo reported yesterday that, “A federal judge cast doubt on Bayer AG’s proposal to neatly resolve all future lawsuits over the safety of its Roundup weedkiller, potentially snagging the German company’s attempts to move past the massive liability.

“Bayer said recently it would pay up to $10.9 billion to settle tens of thousands of current Roundup cases and create a system for handling future cases. The deal came after three juries in recent years awarded large verdicts to plaintiffs alleging Roundup caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma, spooking investors.

But with Roundup still being sold and no plans to change the label or active ingredients, settling the litigation isn’t as easy as paying those who have already sued. Bayer proposed a novel type of class action to capture all future claims, which would be guided by the conclusions of a court-approved panel of scientists chosen to study Roundup’s potential carcinogenicity.”

The Journal article noted that, “U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco, who must approve the class action, said Monday he was skeptical of the plan and likely to reject the idea. In a four-page order refusing to delay a July court hearing in the case, he questioned ‘whether it would be constitutional (or otherwise lawful)’ to hand the issue to a panel of scientists instead of judges and juries.

“The company’s shares fell by 5% Tuesday in Europe.

“‘In an area where the science may be evolving, how could it be appropriate to lock in a decision from a panel of scientists for all future cases?’ the judge wrote. Bayer had proposed giving the panel four years to study existing research on whether Roundup and its active ingredient, glyphosate, cause cancer.”

Ms. Randazzo added that, “Meanwhile, no one could bring new Roundup lawsuits, and if the panel found the weedkiller to be safe, it would essentially shut down any future cases. If the panel concluded Roundup was dangerous at certain exposure levels, lawsuits could go ahead, but those suing couldn’t seek any punitive damages.

“The judge said he also found it ‘dubious’ that news of the class action could possibly reach all farmer workers, gardeners and other Roundup users who haven’t gotten cancer yet and may want to sue.”

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USDA Improves Crop Insurance Policies with New Options

A news release yesterday from USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) stated that, “[USDA] today announced changes to several crop insurance policies improving options for producers, including introducing a new Quality Loss Option, a new unit structure assignment option for Enterprise Units (EU) and new procedures for Multi-County Enterprise Units (MCEU).

“‘In addition to making the changes required by the Farm Bill, we are making updates to provide producers more flexibility and options. We continually listen to producers and other stakeholders, and we adjust these policies when necessary,’ said Martin Barbre, Administrator of [RMA]. ‘With these changes, producers will have more coverage choices.'”

Yesterday’s update noted that, “Specifically:

  • The new Quality Loss Option is in response to the 2018 Farm Bill that required the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) to research and develop methods of adjusting for quality losses. The new Quality Loss Option allows producers to replace post-quality production amounts in their Actual Production History (APH) databases with pre-quality production amounts, thereby increasing their actual yields for individual crop years.
  • For EUs and MCEUs, a new unit structure assignment option was added. Now, if the producer doesn’t qualify for separate EUs on both practices (EUs for both irrigated and non-irrigated practices, or EUs for both Following Another Crop (FAC) and Not Following Another Crop (NFAC) cropping practices, as authorized), an EU may apply to one practice meeting EU requirements and basic/optional units on the other practice.”
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USDA Announces Flexibilities for Producers Filing ‘Notice of Loss’ for Failed, Prevented Planted Acres

A news release last week from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, ” [USDA] is providing additional flexibilities for producers to file on acres with failed crops or crops that were prevented from planting because of extreme weather events. USDA’s [FSA] is adding these flexibilities for Notice of Loss on both insured and uninsured crops to enable Service Centers to best assist producers.

“‘With many program deadlines approaching, our Service Centers are working hard to accommodate as many producer appointments as possible,’ said FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce. ‘By providing flexibilities to our Notice of Loss policy, we can ensure we provide the best customer service.'”

The FSA update noted that, “For insured crops, producers who timely filed a prevented planted claim with the reinsurance company but filed a Notice of Loss (CCC-576) form after the deadline will be considered timely filed for FSA purposes. FSA can use data from the Risk Management Agency (RMA) for accepting the report of prevented planting with FSA. If the information is not available through RMA, the producer may also provide proper evidence to FSA that the prevented planted claim was timely filed with the reinsurance company.”

Last week’s update added that, “For failed acreage of uninsured crops, the Notice of Loss (CCC-576) must be completed, signed and verified before the disposition of the crop;” and, “A Notice of Loss cannot be filed for a crop before the final planting date, but it can be filed before completing the crop acreage report.”

“Producers who miss FSA’s July 15 acreage reporting deadline will not face a late filing fee if filed within a month of the deadline.

“For questions, please contact your FSA county office. To locate your FSA county office at your Service Center, visit farmers.gov/service-center-locator.”

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USDA Reminds Producers to Complete Crop Acreage Reports

A news release yesterday from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “Agricultural producers who have not yet completed their crop acreage reports after spring planting should make an appointment with their local [FSA] office before the applicable deadline. July 15 is a major deadline for most crops, but acreage reporting deadlines vary by county and by crop. Contact your FSA county office for acreage reporting deadlines that are specific to your county.

“‘The first step to become eligible for many USDA programs is to file an accurate crop acreage report,’ said FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce. ‘To file your acreage report, call your local FSA office to make an appointment. Your local staff is standing by to help you.’

“Due to the pandemic, FSA has implemented acreage reporting flexibilities. FSA can work with producers to file timely acreage reports by phone, email, online tools and virtual meetings. Some FSA offices are open for in-person appointments, but you must call first to make an appointment.”

The FSA update added that, “Many FSA offices are using Microsoft Teams software to virtually meet with producers to review maps and documents for certification. Producers who want to schedule a virtual appointment can download the Microsoft Teams app on their smart phone or tablet and call the FSA office for an appointment. You may also use Microsoft Teams from your personal computer without downloading software.

“County offices can provide producers with maps along with instructions for completing and returning the maps through either mail, email or through commercially available free and secure online tools such as Box for file sharing and OneSpan for eSignature solutions. After planting is complete, producers should return completed maps and the acreage reporting sheet by the applicable deadline.”

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Indoor Farms Thrive in Covid Era

Last month, Bloomberg writer Deena Shanker reported that, “By Saturday, March 14, even before Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the shutdown of all in-restaurant dining in New York City the next night, Viraj Puri, chief executive officer of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based indoor urban farming company Gotham Greens, found his business had essentially changed overnight.

“His major restaurant customers were suspending all orders ‘until further notice,’ while the grocers, including Whole Foods Market, FreshDirect, and other major chains were doing the opposite, asking for huge increases in product and extra deliveries of the company’s locally grown greens and herbs. (Puri declined to share the food service-retail split for his business, but he says restaurants are the smaller piece.) ‘My phone was buzzing off the hook from the largest supermarkets, saying can you run extra trucks,’ he says. Gotham was ready—it had just opened three facilities in Baltimore, Chicago, and Providence and had another opening in Denver in May, almost tripling its production capacity. In the immediate days after the pandemic declaration, the company increased planting by more than 20%. ‘For me, it’s seed as much as you can,’ says Jenn Frymark, a managing partner who also serves as the company’s ‘chief greenhouse officer.'”

Ms. Shanker noted that, “Unlike typical field operations, with separate planting and harvesting seasons, Gotham Greens runs continual, year-round seasons in its hydroponic, urban greenhouses, often built on the sites of now defunct industrial businesses, including a former Bethlehem Steel Corp. plant in Baltimore and an old toy factory in Queens, N.Y. It focuses on such greens as butterhead lettuce, basil, and, especially since the many food-borne illness outbreaks that have come out of West Coast production, romaine lettuce. Packaged in chic 4.5-ounce plastic clamshells, the salad basics can go for more than twice the price of their direct competitors, which explains why Puri is so singularly focused on the greens market, at least for now.”

“When major farms around the country saw their food service business disappear almost overnight, many were left dumping produce and plowing it under while it was still in the fields. Puri says that Gotham, while it did donate some product that would have headed to food service, didn’t dump anything. Some of its customers, such as restaurant distributor Baldor Specialty Foods Inc. and lunch chain Just Salad, kept buying product but sold it retail,” the article said.

The Bloomberg article added that, “Startup costs for indoor farming operations can be very high, as are electricity bills, depending on the energy source, and supermarket prices often reflect that. Yet the benefits of longer shelf life, lower water use, and fewer (if any) pesticides and food-borne bacteria will continue to make these models attractive.”

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Startup Upcycles Unused Milk Into Sustainable Clothing

Bloomberg News reported earlier this month that, “A Los Angeles-based startup that upcycles unused milk into sustainable clothing is in talks with leading dairy companies in China over strategic partnerships, said the company’s founder and chief executive.

“Mi Terro’s Robert Luo said he is discussing investment with dominant firms in the Chinese dairy market, where the startup sources its raw materials. Since the launch in June 2019 of its t-shirts made using fabric produced from excess milk, Mi Terro has generated more than $100,000 in revenue from online sales to customers in more than 40 countries, Luo said in an interview.”

The Bloomberg article noted that, “Luo’s inspiration came not from clothing waste but from food. On a visit to his uncle’s dairy farm in China, he saw ‘buckets and buckets’ of spoiled milk going unused. ‘I realized it’s a huge problem that we just don’t talk about enough,’ he said.

“When he returned to the US, he worked with a childhood friend with a background in material science and chemistry to find a use for the waste. After three months of researching they started to work out a solution that can extract the casein protein from the milk and spin it into fiber. The fats are removed from the milk before de-watering it to become powdered milk. Proteins are then isolated and solidified into fibers which are stretched and spun into yarn that is ready to be used in making clothing.”

The article added that, “The startup is preparing to expand its food waste innovation beyond fashion. It is working on new technology that will help dairy makers recycle whey waste into biodegradable food packaging film, Luo said.”

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COVID-19 Puts Stress on Commercial Real Estate

Earlier this month, New York Times writers Conor Dougherty and Peter Eavis reported that, “Faced with plunging sales that have already led to tens of millions of layoffs, companies are trying to renegotiate their office and retail leases — and in some cases refusing to pay — in hopes of lowering their overhead and surviving the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. This has given rise to fierce negotiations with building owners, who are trying to hold the line on rents for fear that rising vacancies and falling revenues could threaten their own survival.

“Simon Property Group, the biggest mall operator in the United States, this week sued Gap, the owner of retail chains that include Old Navy and Banana Republic, for nearly $66 million in unpaid rent for April, May and June.”

The Times article noted that, “In many cases, the strongest tenants — those most able to pay — are driving the hardest for a discount. They include brand-name companies like LVMH, the luxury goods conglomerate that owns Sephora and other outlets, and Starbucks, which had $2.6 billion of cash on hand at the end of March and would have little problem selling stock or bonds to raise more money.”

More broadly, the article pointed out that, “Beyond the immediate impact of business closings on tenants’ revenue are larger questions, including the already-dire trends for malls and shopping centers, how office and consumer behavior might change after the pandemic, and the effects of recent looting and vandalism on retail corridors. Will companies need more space so that employees can spread out, or will they need less because they need fewer offices at all?

“Commercial real estate — any building that isn’t a home — might be called dull but important. There are no HGTV shows dedicated to the armies of mostly male brokers who rent out office buildings and shopping malls, but these properties are the bedrock of commercial life and are of paramount importance to the financial system,” the Times article said.

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USDA Adds Digital Options for Farmers and Ranchers to Apply for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program

A news release yesterday from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “[FSA] will now accept applications for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) through an online portal, expanding the options available to producers to apply for this program, which helps offset price declines and additional marketing costs because of the coronavirus pandemic. FSA is also leveraging commercial document storage and e-signature solutions to enable producers to work with local service center staff to complete their applications from home.

“‘We are doing everything we can to serve our customers and make sure agricultural producers impacted by the pandemic can quickly and securely apply for this relief program,’ said FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce. ‘In addition to working with FSA staff through the phone, email and scheduled in-person appointments, we can now also take applications through the farmers.gov portal, which saves producers and our staff time.’

Through the portal, producers with secure USDA login credentials—known as eAuthentication—can certify eligible commodities online, digitally sign applications and submit directly to the local USDA Service Center. Producers who do not have an eAuthentication account can learn more and begin the enrollment process at farmers.gov/sign-in. Currently, the digital application is only available to sole proprietors or single-member business entities.”

The FSA update added that, “USDA Service Centers can also work with producers to complete and securely transmit digitally signed applications through two commercially available tools: Box and OneSpan. Producers who are interested in digitally signing their applications should notify their local service centers when calling to discuss the CFAP application process. You can learn more about these solutions at farmers.gov/mydocs.”

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