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March 30, 2020

COVID-19 Updates From Headquarters

Note: Given the significant impacts COVID-19 continues to have on the beef industry, in the section below we have centralized some of the most essential updates. Full COVID-19 coverage from CCA is available here, and full coverage from CCA affiliate the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is available hereRegulatory work and other non-COVID-19 matters continue to impact the beef industry, so you are encouraged to review the regular “From Headquarters” section, below.

NCBA and CCA Urge USDA to Provide Relief to Ranchers
CCA continues to work closely with our national affiliate the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) to ensure that the federal government eliminates any obstacles in the food supply chain and to ensure that all producer losses directly associated with COVID-19 are addressed by Congress.

On Friday, President Trump signed an updated version of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, “the single-biggest economic relief package in American history.” This bill is the third round—following the $8.3 billion in public health support passed earlier this month and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—of support from the federal government in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Prior to the signing of the CARES Act, NCBA and state affiliates including CCA had already provided guidance to USDA about how best to utilize the $9.5 billion for producer support appropriated to the agency under the Act.

Specifically, NCBA and CCA formally requested that USDA give particular consideration to impacted cattle producers, who are not eligible for traditional USDA and Small Business Administration safety net programs available to other commodity producers. Livestock groups are also asking that support payments be directed at producers with demonstrated loss and financial need attributable to the COVID-19 crisis (as opposed to a blanket payment equally apportioned among all producers).

To read the key provisions in the CARES Act for cattle producers, click here.

US Forest Service Issues Guidance for Permit Administration During COVID-19 Emergency
On Wednesday, the US Forest Service (USFS) sent a memo to all regional foresters providing guidance on how to administer grazing permits during the COVID-19 crisis as permittees prepare for turnout. The full guidance document for USFS staff can be viewed here.

To ensure social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis, permittees should plan to communicate with Forest Service staff via phone or email. If you need phone or email contacts for your line officer, please contact Kirk Wilbur in the CCA office.

To help streamline permit administration, USFS staff is requesting that permittees pay their grazing bill without delay and do so online. Follow up with the line officer to inform them that the grazing bill has been paid. Additionally, because USFS staff may be unable to get out in the field as regularly, staff is asking for your help in monitoring your allotment.

USFS is committed to facilitating permit administration during this crisis but is taking every precaution to safeguard staff and permittee health. For more details contact Kirk in the CCA office. To read our full release on this announcement, click here.

EPA Announces Temporary Policy for Enforcement During COVID-19 Crisis
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Thursday a temporary discretion enforcement policy that the Agency will operate under as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It will apply retroactively starting March 13, 2020.

“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment.”

NCBA is pleased with the announcement of this policy, as last week the Association said they had “contacted the EPA requesting the agency provide a ‘no action’ assurance during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

To read the EPA’s announcement of the temporary policy, click here.

FSA Announces Temporary Changes to Programs
On Thursday USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced it will be making temporary changes to the Farm Loan, Disaster and Conservation and Safety programs to make conducting business easier for customers. The temporary changes include “relaxing the loan-making process and adding flexibilities for servicing direct and guaranteed loans to provide credit to producers in need.”

Earlier this month, NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane wrote to Vice President Pence outlining administrative actions which would protect and streamline the nation’s beef supply chain—including the need for changes to FSA programs.

The letter stated: “Additionally, in light of the current market conditions (including cattle market volatility), America’s cattle producers need flexibility and increased access to low- and zero-interest loans in order to remain viable and ensure that grocery store shelves remained stocked. To that end, NCBA encourages USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to expand availability of these loans, in addition to increasing flexibility of terms for existing loans. Further, we request that FSA coordinate with USDA Rural Development and the Small Business Administration throughout the implementation of these accommodations.”

From FSA’s announcement, NCBA has outlined several actions that provide flexibility such as:

  • Extending the deadline for applicants to complete loan applications
  • Preparing loan documents even if FSA is unable to complete lien and record searches
  • Extending deadlines for producers to respond to loan servicing actions, including loan deferral consideration.

To read the full “FSA Makes Changes to Farm Loan, Disaster, Conservation and Safety Net Programs to Make it Easier for Customers to Conduct Business” news release, click here.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act Explained
On March 18, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law by the President.

The Act “provides for supplemental appropriations related to the COVID-19 public health emergency, as well as waivers and modifications of Federal nutrition programs, employment-related protections and benefits, health programs and insurance coverage requirements, and related tax credits during the COVID-19 public health emergency,” the White House explained in the bill announcement.

To help employees better understand this new law, the U.S. Department of Labor has created a factsheet with information about employee rights—including paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave—under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

To learn more about your rights as an employee or how the provisions in the Act will impact you as an employer from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020, click here.

From Headquarters

U.S.-China Phase One Trade Deal Brings Wins for Cattlemen
Early last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced further progress in the implementation of the U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement, specifically agriculture related provisions.

“These steps show that China is moving in the right direction to implement the Phase One agreement,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said. “We will continue to work with China to ensure full implementation of its commitments and look forward to seeing further improvement and progress as we continue our ongoing bilateral discussions.”

The agreement, signed January 15, lowers several trade barriers for U.S. agriculture, providing greater access to the profitable Chinese market. This tariff reduction process is already in effect, with many importers reporting that they have begun receiving tariff relief for U.S. agricultural product purchases. In addition, China has agreed to nearly doubling its purchase of U.S. farm products. In 2019, $8.4 billion worth of beef products were exported to China.

As part of the agreement, China has notified the U.S. of proposed maximum residue levels for three hormones regularly used in U.S. beef production. This signifies the recognition and acceptance by China, that these common U.S. production methods are safe and science based.

Also beneficial to the U.S. beef industry is that for the first time since 2003, nearly all beef products will have access to the Chinese market. Per the agreement, China has expanded its list of beef products eligible for entry to its ports, such as processed meat products. Additionally, all references to age restrictions have been removed in accordance with the February 24 announcement, conditionally lifting restrictions on beef and beef products from cattle 30 months of age and older. The USDA estimates an additional $1 billion in revenue for U.S. producers resulting from the lift of these two previous prohibitions alone.

Ease of import was also a key component of the agreement. In accordance with the deal, China has enhanced and streamlined the processes by which importers are approved. Almost 500 U.S. beef plants have already been approved for export to the nation.

It is still unknown how the impacts of COVID-19 will influence China’s cash liquidity and thus, its buying power to meet additional obligations. CCA will continue to keep you informed as negotiations continue.

State Department Fast Tracks H-2A Visa Processing for Ag Labor
In response to growing fears about the shortage of farm labor approaching planting time for much of the west coast, and amid tightening restrictions due to COVID-19, last Thursday the U.S. State Department expanded the number of foreign agricultural workers whose visa applications can be processed without an in-person interview.

With almost 70% of H-2A workers entering the U.S. in the second and third quarters of the year, this waiver could not come at a more integral time for agriculture. Earlier this month, the Department suspended “non-essential” visa processing in Mexico due to coronavirus, but did say it would prioritize processing for returning H-2A visa holding temporary workers whose visas expired within the last year. Fearing a labor shortage, it soon increased waivers to include new and returning workers with visas expired in the last 24 months.

Totaling about 20% of the farm labor force, in 2019 the number of H-2A workers reached almost 260,000. Under this new waiver, the majority of this H-2A workforce should be able to enter the U.S., lending a sigh of relief to the farmers and ranchers who rely on this integral labor pool.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross praised the announcement saying, “I want to thank USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue for elevating the importance of streamlining the process for eligible H2A applicants who have worked in the United States before or who are already here. Secretary Perdue understands the challenges that farmers across the country, and especially in California, face as the work continues to plant and harvest our crops. I have such respect for all agricultural workers who are vital to a safe, secure food supply.”

However, these measures are temporary and will end no later than December 31.

State Beef Councils Prevail in R-CALF vs. Perdue Case
On Friday, the United States District Court for the District of Montana ruled in favor of the government and the Montana Beef Council in the lawsuit R-CALF vs. Perdue, a major win for The Beef Checkoff Program and 15 qualified state beef councils (the California Beef Council was not one of the 15 state beef councils involved in the case).

Following the announcement the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) praised the outcome saying it “ends a legal battle that has spanned more than three years and interrupted beef promotion functions in Montana. The case had threatened local input and promotion efforts at the state level across the country.”

NCBA CEO Colin Woodall added, “The foundation of the Beef Checkoff has always been state beef councils that collect checkoff funds and determine how those investments are used for research, marketing and promotion efforts in individual states. Those efforts are directed by the same cattlemen and cattlewomen who pay the checkoff, so this victory goes a long way toward ensuring they continue to direct those investments.” 

Woodall added that, “NCBA will continue to stand with state beef councils whose work is crucial to maintaining beef demand throughout the nation.”

To read the full court ruling, click here.

DUE WEDNESDAY: 2019 Water Diversion and Use Reports for Many Diverters
Under the Emergency Regulation for Measuring and Reporting the Diversion of Water adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) in 2016, all water rights holders diverting water under a permit, license, registration or certificate must file their 2019 annual use reports by April 1, regardless of the size of those diversions (those filing Statements of Diversion and Use for riparian and pre-1914 rights have until July 1 to file). The reports must be made electronically using the SWRCB’s Water Right Form and Survey Submittal Portal. To submit a report, click here.

Failure to file water use reports by April 1 may subject diverters to fines of up to $500 per day.

In previous years, the SWRCB has tenaciously enforced the reporting requirements, sending Notices of Deficiency to thousands of water rights holders who have failed to timely report their diversion and use of water. Those notices threatened non-filers with potential fines of tens of thousands of dollars (calculated using the maximum allowable fine of $500 per day for each day after the filing deadline). While many diverters were able to avoid fines by correcting their error and filing their diversion and use reports, the Notice of Deficiency and threatened fine were an unwelcome surprise for many ranchers. To avoid notices of deficiency and threatened enforcement fines, CCA encourages water rights holders with permits, licenses, registrations or certificates to file as soon as possible, and no later than April 1.

Get Involved: Help Shape Mountain Lion Policy in Southern California and the Central Coast
As previously reported in Legislative Bulletin, on April 15 the California Fish and Game Commission will consider whether listing mountain lions in Southern California and the Central Coast as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) “may be warranted,” a proposal that CCA is actively opposing on policy and legal grounds.

Additionally, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has instituted a ‘three-strikes’ policy for obtaining take permits for mountain lions confirmed to perpetrate depredations of livestock. Under this policy, the Department will only authorize “non-lethal take”—such as hazing and pursuit—the first two times a mountain lion kills or injures livestock, and will not issue a lethal take permit unless one is specifically requested after a third depredation event.

CCA is strenuously opposing these policies, but will be more successful with the assistance of our impacted members.

To help CCA fight the CESA listing petition, CCA staff asks that members write to the Commission and tell them that mountain lions should not be protected under California’s Endangered Species Act. The most successful comments will be those that address mountain lion impacts to your ranch and likely impacts that mountain lion protections would have upon your operation. Any information you may have about mountain lion population abundance in Southern California or the Central Coast may also be valuable. CCA encourages you to send your letters to CCA’s Kirk Wilbur at kirk@calcattlemen.org or by mail to the CCA office. Letters should be addressed to Eric Sklar, President; California Fish and Game Commission; 1416 9th Street, Room 1320; Sacramento, CA 95814.

To help CCA oppose the ‘three-strikes policy,’ CCA asks that members: (1) request a depredation permit when mountain lions injure or kill livestock; (2) document your communications with the Department (e.g. whether they deny the permit outright, limit the permit to non-lethal take, delay in issuing the permit, etc.); and (3) communicate those interactions to CCA staff.

For any comments or questions concerning mountain lion policy, contact Kirk Wilbur in the CCA office.

Industry News

How the coronavirus pandemic is crippling California’s efforts to prevent catastrophic wildfires The San Francisco Chronicle “California’s ability to prepare for a dry and potentially dangerous fire season this year is being crippled as the coronavirus pandemic prompts fire agencies across the West to cancel or delay programs aimed at preventing catastrophic wildfire.” To continue reading, click here.

U.S. Beef Packers Ante Up Amid COVID-19 Crisis Drovers  “Some American beef packing companies are adding to worker’s pay and sick leave in response to the COVID-19 emergency. For cattle feeders, Tyson Foods and National Beef Packing Co. have announced plans to increase payments for fed cattle procured from suppliers.” To continue reading, click here.

PG&E pleads guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter over Camp fire LA Times  “In a federal filing Monday permanently documenting its role in causing California’s deadliest wildfire, Pacific Gas & Electric announced it has pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the 2018 Camp fire in the Northern California town of Paradise.” To continue reading, click here.

California saved billions for ‘rainy day.’ But two economic hurricanes are headed our way The Sacramento Bee “The coronavirus pandemic already has wiped out tens of thousands of jobs in California. And that’s just the first act. Even after the “stay at home” orders are eased and life starts getting back to normal, COVID-19 will likely inflict a second wave of economic misery on the state.” To continue reading, click here.

Upcoming Events

CCA Feeder Meeting
May 20-22, San Diego, CA
For more information, click here.

CCA Midyear Meeting & Cattle PAC Auction
June 17-19, Paso Robles, CA
For more information, click here.

California Cattlemen Cover March 2020

California Cattleman

Click here to read the latest issue!

The Angus breed, in addition to SimAngus, Simmental and Brangus are the focus of this year’s March issue. Perspectives from each of these respective breed associations is found in this month’s editorial.

Additionally, this issue includes recaps of both the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale and the 2020 California Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show.

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