USDA Adds Flexibilities for Crop Insurance to Support America’s Farmers and Ranchers

A news release on Friday from USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) stated that, “[RMA] is authorizing additional flexibilities due to coronavirus while continuing to support producers, working through Approved Insurance Providers (AIPs) to deliver 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.

“‘Crop insurance will continue to support farmers through the challenges ahead, and our RMA team is here to support them,’ RMA Administrator Martin Barbre said. ‘We are working with the AIPs to continue to deliver crop insurance and to respond to farmer needs.'”

Friday’s update stated that, “RMA staff are working with AIPs and other customers by phone, mail and electronically to continue supporting crop insurance coverage for producers. Farmers with crop insurance questions or needs should continue to contact their insurance agents about conducting business remotely (by telephone or email).

“For the most current updates on available services, visit farmers.gov/coronavirus.”

Posted in Agriculture Law | Comments closed

USDA Announces More Than 3.4 Million Acres Selected for General Signup Conservation Reserve Program

A news release yesterday from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today announced the acceptance of more than 3.4 million acres in the general Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup recently completed, the first general signup enrollments since 2016. Through CRP, farmers and ranchers receive an annual rental payment for establishing long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland. Farmers and ranchers who participate in CRP help provide numerous benefits to the nation’s environment and economy.

“‘The Conservation Reserve Program is one of our nation’s largest conservation endeavors and is critical in helping producers better manage their operations while conserving valuable natural resources,’ Perdue said. ‘The program marked its 35th anniversary this year, and we were quite pleased to see one of our largest signups in many years.’

“Over these 35 years, CRP has addressed multiple concerns while ensuring the most competitive offers are selected by protecting fragile and environmentally sensitive lands, improving water quality, enhancing wildlife populations, providing pollinator forage habitat, sequestering carbon in soil and enhancing soil productivity. Seventy percent of the nation’s land is owned and tended privately, and America’s farmers, ranchers and landowners have willingly stepped up to protect the environment and natural resources.”

Yesterday’s update pointed out that, “While the deadline for general CRP signup was February 28, 2020, signups for continuous CRP, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, CRP Grasslands and the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP) are ongoing. The CRP Grasslands deadline is May 15, and the SHIPP signup begins March 30, 2020, and ends August 21, 2020.

“Continuous and Grasslands enrollments are available nationwide. All counties located within the Prairie Pothole region states of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota are eligible for SHIPP.”

“For state-by-state information on general signup results, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.”

Posted in Agriculture Law | Comments closed

FSA Makes Changes to Farm Loan, Disaster, Conservation and Safety Net Programs to Make it Easier for Customers to Conduct Business

A news release today from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) stated that, “[FSA] county offices are open by phone appointment only until further notice, and FSA staff are available to continue helping agricultural producers with program signups, loan servicing and other important actions. Additionally, FSA is relaxing the loan-making process and adding flexibilities for servicing direct and guaranteed loans to provide credit to producers in need.

FSA Service Centers are open for business by phone appointment only. While our program delivery staff will continue to come into to the office, they will be working with our agricultural producers by phone and using email and online tools whenever possible.

“‘FSA programs and loans are critical to America’s farmers and ranchers, and we want to continue our work with customers while taking precautionary measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus,’ FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce said. ‘We recognize that farm loans are critical for annual operating and family living expenses, emergency needs and cash flow through times like this. FSA is working to find and use every option and flexibility to provide producers with credit options and other program benefits.'”

Today’s update noted that, “FSA will be accepting additional forms and applications by facsimile or electronic signature. Some services are also available online to customers with an eAuth account, which provides access to the farmers.gov portal where producers can view USDA farm loan information and payments and view and track certain USDA program applications and payments. Customers can track payments, report completed practices, request conservation assistance and electronically sign documents. Customers who do not already have an eAuth account can enroll at farmers.gov/sign-in.

“FSA encourages producers to contact their county office to discuss these programs and temporary changes to farm loan deadlines and the loan servicing options available. For Service Center contact information, visit farmers.gov/coronavirus.”

Posted in Agriculture Law | Comments closed

“Welcome to M&A During a Pandemic”

Bloomberg writers Dinesh Nair, Liana Baker, and David Hellier reported this week that, “As the coronavirus roils markets, dealmakers are pulling out all their tricks to get transactions done. Auctions are accelerating in case conditions worsen. Sellers are choosing cash upfront over higher offers; and they’re doing it all over video chat while pets and children roam in the background.

Welcome to M&A during a pandemic.

“‘I think people are grasping the fact they need to do their jobs when everyone is home, and you have to deal with your family and chores,’ said David Gandler, chief executive officer of FuboTV Inc., which agreed on Monday to merge with FaceBank Group Inc. ‘This is creating some chaos but not too much. We all understand the situation.'”

The Bloomberg article stated that, “Indeed: Deals are still getting done, despite market turmoil whipsawing stocks, threatening liquidity and muddling valuation predictions. Companies have announced $67.5 billion of mergers, acquisitions and investments since the virus was deemed a pandemic on March 11, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“To be sure, that’s less than half the amount during the same period a year earlier, meaning 2020 could be one of the worst years for M&A in a decade if that pace holds. And some transactions coming together now will have been percolating since before the outbreak.

Still, private equity buyers in particular have been snapping up assets despite the volatility. Buyout firm KKR & Co.’s 4.2 billion pound ($4.9 billion) deal for Pennon Group Plc’s waste-management arm Viridor Ltd. came together much faster than a regular auction, people familiar with the negotiations said.”

Posted in General Interest | Comments closed

EPA’s Interim Registration Approval of Glyphosate Faces First Court Challenge

DTN writer Todd Neeley reported yesterday that, “EPA’s interim registration approval of glyphosate in January now faces its first court challenge, as a number of food safety, farm worker and environmental groups have asked a federal appeals court to review the decision.

“The Rural Coalition, Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas, Farmworker Association of Florida, Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Food Safety filed a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

“The groups allege EPA violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, and violated the agency’s duties in the Endangered Species Act by not consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service before issuing the decision.”

The DTN article noted that, “EPA finalized the decision on glyphosate, again stating the herbicide poses no risk to human health and can be used safely with certain drift mitigation requirements.”

Posted in Agriculture Law | Comments closed

“Corona Clause” Crops Into Loan Documentation

Joe Rennison reported last week at The Financial Times Online that, “Lawyers are calling it the ‘corona clause’: new language that has cropped up in loan documentation giving borrowers more leeway to absorb hits to their businesses caused by the viral outbreak.

“Such terms could allow for lost revenues to be added back to calculations of profits, say analysts, helping companies to avoid breaching limits on how much they can borrow.

Borrowers have been increasingly keen in recent years to give themselves flexibility to cope with shocks beyond the normal course of business. The virus outbreak certainly falls under that description; rating agency Standard & Poor’s on Tuesday said that economic damage stemming from the virus could push default rates for US companies above 10 per cent this year, the highest since the financial crisis.”

The FT article added that, “Companies have highlighted coronavirus as a risk to their outlooks in deal documents. A regulatory filing for food company Del Monte’s $575m stalled bond deal announced earlier this month noted that the outbreak ‘could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.'”

Posted in General Interest | Comments closed

United States Honey Production Up 2 Percent in 2019

An update yesterday from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) stated that, “United States honey production in 2019 totaled 157 million pounds, up 2 percent from 2018. There were 2.81 million colonies producing honey in 2019, down 1 percent from 2018. Yield per colony averaged 55.8 pounds, up 2 percent from the 54.5 pounds in 2018. Colonies which produced honey in more than one State were counted in each State where the honey was produced. Therefore, at the United States level yield per colony may be understated, but total production would not be impacted. Colonies were not included if honey was not harvested. Producer honey stocks were 41.0 million pounds on December 15, 2019, up 40 percent from a year earlier. Stocks held by producers exclude those held under the commodity loan program.”

The NASS update added that, “United States honey prices decreased 11 percent during 2019 to $1.97 per pound, compared to $2.21 per pound in 2018. United States and State level prices reflect the portions of honey sold through cooperatives, private, and retail channels. Prices for each color class are derived by weighting the quantities sold for each marketing channel. Prices for the 2018 crop reflect honey sold in 2018 and 2019. Some 2018 crop honey was sold in 2019, which caused some revisions to the 2018 crop prices.”

A separate update yesterday from the NASS Northern Plains Regional Office pointed out that, “Honey production in 2019 from North Dakota producers with five or more colonies totaled 33.8 million pounds, down 15 percent from 2018, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. North Dakota ranked first in the nation for honey production for the sixteenth consecutive year.”

Posted in Agriculture Law | Comments closed

Agricultural Producers Encouraged to Visit Farmers.Gov for Updates on Services in Their Community

An update today from USDA stated that, “As proactive health measures are put in effect nationwide to reduce the spread of coronavirus, the USDA is taking measures to ensure the safety of its employees and customers. As a result, access to certain facilities may be limited while remaining open for business. All service center visitors wishing to conduct business with the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, or any other service center agency are encouraged to call their service center to confirm availability for in-person or phone appointments before visiting. Producers can find their service center’s phone number at farmers.gov/service-center-locator. Agricultural producers should visit farmers.gov/coronavirus for the latest information on available services and the latest status of service centers impacted by these locally-specific health measures.”

Posted in Agriculture Law | Comments closed

Syngenta Corn Class Action Payments Expected to be Sent Out This Week

DTN writer Todd Neeley reported yesterday that, “The first settlement payments for farmers in the Syngenta corn class action lawsuit are expected to be sent out sometime this week, according to an announcement from attorneys representing farmers in the case.

“A majority of farmers can expect total payments exceeding $5,000, according to a news release from Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP based in Kansas City, Missouri.

“On Feb. 28, 2020, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas in Kansas City, approved interim payments to eligible corn growers, grain-handling facilities and ethanol plants.”

Mr. Neeley noted that, “The court previously approved the $1.51 billion settlement from a lawsuit filed following Syngenta’s release of Agrisure Viptera (MIR162) and Agrisure Duracade corn traits.

Beginning on or around March 20, the checks will be mailed to a number of eligible class members.

“That includes producers and landlords who are expected to receive about 65% of their estimated total settlement amount, and grain-handling facilities and ethanol plants that will receive about 50% of their estimated total settlement amount.”

Posted in Agriculture Law | Comments closed

An Airbnb For Farmland Hits A Snag

Last month, Dan Charles reported at National Public Radio (NPR) Online that, “Parker Smith grows corn and soybeans on land near Champaign, Ill., together with his father and uncle. But Smith Farms doesn’t own most of the land it uses. ‘About 75 percent of what we farm is rented ground,’ he says.

“This is common. Across the Midwest, about half of all the farmland is owned by landlords who live somewhere else. Farmers compete to rent that land. ‘There’s only so much ground, and most of the farmers out there want more, so obviously it gets pretty competitive,’ Smith says.

“These farmer-landowner relationships can last for decades. They sometimes feel personal. So Smith was pretty upset when he heard that a company had sent letters to his landlords a few months ago, offering cash up front to rent the land that he’s been farming.”

The NPR item explained that, “The letters came from a company called Tillable, based in Chicago. It’s backed by venture capital.

“Corbett Kull, Tillable’s CEO, says that his company sent out thousands of these letters to landowners. ‘A lot’ of them took the offer, he says. His company will take that land and list it on its website as available to rent. It’ll take bids from farmers and then sublet it.”

However, Mr. Charles noted that, “Those letters to landowners, though, got a lot of farmers very angry. ‘They’re reaching out to our landlords, that we have relationships with, to sort of go behind the farmer’s back’ and break up those relationships, Smith says.

“Smith admits that this kind of thing does happen among farmers competing for land. But another factor played a big role in farmers’ reaction. It’s an unproven, very Internet-era suspicion about data and privacy.

“Parker Smith, like a lot of farmers, uses equipment that automatically collects all kinds of data about his operations — like how much fertilizer he applies and how much grain he harvests from each small piece of each field. He pays a company called the Climate Corporation to manage that data and help him understand it.

“Last fall, though, the Climate Corporation and Tillable announced a partnership. And after Smith learned about Tillable’s letters to landowners, Smith had to wonder: Did Tillable target specific landlords because it got access to data about how productive and profitable their land is?”

Posted in Start-up Company Law | Comments closed