COVID-19 agriculture updates: March 31
Hello DeSoto and Sarasota County Producers,
I hope that you are all weathering this wild time well enough. I know that for some of you, business has nearly come to a full stop and others are scrambling to figure out alternative markets and transportation systems for your products.
I am receiving approximately 30 emails every day about agriculture-related corona virus information. It is all information that you should be aware of. Rather than flooding your email inboxes with dozens and dozens of forwarded emails per week, I am going to do my best to compress all of the information down into a single email every two or three days. They are going to be long emails, but I think that this better than dozens of individual emails.
Please don’t hesitate to give me a call (cell: 678-920-0040) if you have questions, concerns, or need help with anything. I’m working full time from home and my #1 priority is supporting all of you.
I know that not all producers in the county use email. If you know a farmer or rancher that doesn’t use email, but should be getting this information, please let me know.
Here’s the information you need to know today:
- The University of Florida has been tasked with providing the state Legislature with weekly updates on the impacts of the virus situation in agriculture. If you have a few minutes, please send me an email (or give me a call) with a few sentences about how your business is being impacted in the following ways:
- What issues are you having with: Labor availability or supply chain disruptions (chemicals, packaging, trucking – availability or delays)?
- What steps are you taking to educate and protect workers and staff?
- If your business has not been impacted, that is very helpful information to share also
- Attached to this email are new mandatory posters in Spanish and English regarding Employee Rights under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. These are to be posted for your workers immediately through 12/31/2020.
- USDA Service Centers are open for business but you have make an appointment by phone – you can’t just drop in. Here’s the number for our regional office: (800) 243-9912
- For updates on available Service Center services visit www.farmers.gov/coronavirus
- Online services are available 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. Online NRCS services are available to customers through the Conservation Client Gateway. 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.
- H2A Updates:
- USDA has been working with DOL, DHS, and State to limit the disruption in the H-2A workforce caused by COVID-19. On Sunday, the State Department took additional steps to increase processing of H-2 visa holders through consulates around the world. To learn more about this, see the attachment labelled “H2A Update”.
- COVID-19 Funding Bill (federal)
- The federal government has passed an emergency spending bill that is the first step in making significant amounts of money available to agriculture producers being impacted by the current events. The most important things for you to know right now are:
- The bill specifically lists “agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus, including producers of specialty crops, producers that supply local food systems, including farmers markets, restaurants, and schools, and livestock producers, including dairy producers”
- $9.5 billion dollars has been earmarked for the agricultural sector. The next step is that the USDA has to figure out how to make the money available to you and what programs to fund.
- When this money is available, you will almost definitely have to “prove/show” your losses, just like you do after a major hurricane. This is what you need to do right now to be prepared:
- Take photographs (with date; smartphones should date photos automatically) showing things like unsaleable crops, products that you had to dump, acreage that you can’t harvest for any reason, or any other loss that you can show in a picture
- Get your financial books up to date. You will most likely have to provide copies of your books for the same timeframe in 2020 and 2019 – this shows what your sales should have been compared to what they actually are this year.
- Collect any communications that you have had with buyers who cancel orders, contracts that are broken, trucking companies that can’t haul, packing plants or slaughter facilities that can’t take your product, farmers markets closed down by the county, etc.
- Anything and everything else that can help you “prove” that despite your best efforts, you suffered loses this year due to the virus outbreak.
- Trucking weight limit waiver
- Has been expanded by the Florida Department of Transportation to include pretty much all agricultural goods (livestock, vegetables, forestry products, etc).
- See attachment called “Enforcement Bulletin 2020-002”. If you know that you are going to be trucking over the legal limit, it is a good idea to print this bulletin and take it with you.
- There are Coronavirus education materials now available in some of the most common indigenous languages in Mexico and Guatemala. If your labor force speaks an indigenous language, please open the attachment labeled “Coronavirus – Indigenous Languages Dialects” and follow the links that correspond with the languages that your employees speak as a first language.
- Grants and Loans: a few of you have already gotten in touch with me to ask for help navigating grants and loans to help your business stay afloat. I am going to try my best to get up to speed with all the options this week – the options keep shifting and some of the details are confusing. When I sufficiently understand everything, I will try to make a “cheat sheet” of just the information you need to know. I can also help you figure out applications. Here is one pretty simple grant to apply for now:
- The American Farmland Trust Farmer Relief Fund is now accepting applications. Currently eligible farms are small to mid-size and market direct to consumers. Grants are $1,000. The AFT hopes to expand this relief fund to provide larger grants to more farmers in the foreseeable future. Here’s the link to the grant: https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__farmland.org_farmer-2Drelief-2Dfund_&d=DwIFaQ&c=sJ6xIWYx-zLMB3EPkvcnVg&r=6x5Bsf6VN00E93LzHNiF40sfxEaUy-U89eDkpF1CmOs&m=7AYWYNOl5P0coArS3clt4wCcvd4N62vbm-4HhL-lqvk&s=jUCxpnZXkGuWmm_NfnhmeAIXZTd6WhaOB1znybngvNI&e=
- The USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) has added new flexibilities for crop insurance due to the coronavirus. See attachment named “Flexibilities in Crop Insurance” for detailed information. In brief:
- Additional Time Given and Interest Deferred on Premium Payments, Written Payment Agreements
- Production Reporting Date Extended
- Electronic Notifications Allowed for Required Reports
- There are reports of agriculture operations struggling to buy enough soap and sanitizers to keep up with the increased need to wash hands and surfaces. Here’s a link to the EPA’s official list of products (for use on surfaces, not hands) that are effective against the coronavirus.
- It is a very long list, so if you can’t get your hands on one product, you should be able to track down another: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2.
- Soil, pasture, and nematode testing. At the moment, some UF testing labs are open and some are closed. I do not know the status of private labs. Here’s the most updated information I have about UF testing labs right now:
- UF’s Soil Testing Lab in Gainesville is open and running tests as fast as they can with minimal staff. They can test for pH, salinity, organic matter, micro and macronutrients. Let me know if you need test forms and I will send you the right ones.
- UF’s Nematode Assay lab is open and running tests with minimal staff.
- UF’s Forage Testing Lab at the Range Cattle Research Station in Ona is closed for at least another month.
- The Extension office in Sarasota can test soil for pH and salinity only. Someone will be available to receive samples on Thursdays from 9am to noon. At this time, if you want to drop off a sample at my office, you will have to park at the fire station next door (corner of Clark Road and Hummingbird Ave). Twin Lakes Park (where our office is located) is closed. The fire station knows that people might be parking in their parking lot and walking across the lawn to the Extension Office.
- Plant Disease and Insect Diagnostics
- UF’s Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic in Quincy is closed until further notice
- You can send pictures to me and I can share with the appropriate experts
- You can register for a very handy service called DDIS (Distance Diagnostic and Identification System): https://ddis.ifas.ufl.edu/. It is the most efficient way to get your plant diseases diagnosed quickly. If you want help figuring out how to register for this free service, let me know.
- I think that other plant disease and labs are still open, but I’m working on figuring that out.
I think that is it for the day. Thank you for reading. Apologies that this email is so long. If you have ideas about better ways to get necessary information to you, please let me know.
All my best to all of you.