COVID-19 has affected several industries around the country including the farm industry, and federal organizations such as the United States Department of Agriculture are working to initiate programs to support farmers and small businesses in need of financial assistance.
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program this past month, which will provide $16 billion in direct support for producers who have been impacted by the pandemic. Additionally, the CARES Act and organizations that include Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency are working to provide more flexibilities to help producers affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The United States Small Business Administration has made multiple programs available to agricultural producers whose operations have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic including the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. Illinois Farm Bureau Vice President Brian Duncan, of Polo, said that farmers and small businesses in the state have been utilizing these programs in recent weeks to support their operations.
“A lot of farmers have enrolled in the PPP program and there have been payments going out, especially to farmers who have employees,” Duncan said. “There have been payments going out to sole proprietors as well. Farmers have been working their way through the EIDL loans, which weren’t made available to farmers initially, but were made available when the second round of funds were put forward. Most farmers have moved through the system pretty well.”
With states around the country remaining shut down or slowly reopening, farmers and small businesses have been conducting more operations online. Duncan said that producers in Illinois have been utilizing these services, which are provided through the FSA website, the farmers.gov portal and the NRCS Conservation Client Gateway, to stay on top of their operations.
“We’ve been doing a lot of online work with our local FSA offices since they’re not doing business in person,” Duncan said. “I have no doubt that some farmers have been moving more of their businesses online, but there are some challenges locally and around the state, especially when it comes to Internet availability.”
The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program will include direct support based on actual losses for agricultural producers where prices and market supply chains have been impacted, as well as assistance for producers with additional adjustment and marketing costs resulting from lost demand and short-term oversupply for the 2020 marketing year caused by COVID-19. The program is eligible to farmers regardless of size and market, if they suffered an eligible loss.
COVID-19 shutdowns have caused disruption in the milk market, and dairy producers are dumping milk as a result. The Risk Management Agency is ensuring that milk producers who purchased insurance are not inappropriately penalized if their milk must be dumped because of recent market disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
For the 2020 calendar year, RMA is allowing Approved Insurance Providers (AIPs) to count dumped milk toward the milk marketings for the DRP or actual marketings for the LGM-Dairy programs regardless of whether the milk was sold. Producers will still have to provide to the AIPs supporting documentation from the cooperative or milk handler verifying the actual pounds dumped and that the milk was dumped.
Crop Insurance Flexibilities
Producers can continue to work with their Approved Insurance Providers, or AIPs, on policies, claims, and agreements. Farmers with crop insurance questions or needs should continue to contact their insurance agents about conducting business by telephone or email.
The Risk Management Agency is working with those insurance providers to provide additional flexibilities in response to COVID-19, including enabling producers to send notifications and reports electronically, extending the date for production reports, providing additional time and deferring interest on premium and other payments, authorizing replant self-certification, waiving the witness signature requirement for approval of Assignments of Indemnity, allowing dumped milk to be counted as milk marketings for the Dairy Revenue Protection or actual marketings for the Livestock Gross Margin for dairy programs, allowing phone and electronic transactions for 2021 crop year sales and reporting dates, including options and endorsements, extending the deadline for some perennial crop Pre-Acceptance Inspection Reports, waiving the 2021 crop year inspection requirements for the Nursery and Nursery Value Select programs in certain cases and authorizing AIPs to allow organic producers to report acreage as certified organic, or transitioning to organic, for the 2020 crop year if they can show they have requested a written certification from a certifying agent by their policy’s acreage reporting date.
Farm Loan Flexibilities
The Farm Service Agency is providing additional flexibilities to provide producers with credit options in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Those include accepting faxes or scanned signatures from customers and lenders and following the most current state or local guidance for use of online or virtual notary services.
FSA is currently relaxing the loan-making process and adding flexibilities for servicing direct and guaranteed loans to provide credit to producers in need. Also, FSA will continue the use of commodity planning prices already approved for the current year. However, customers must be advised of the potential budget, cash flow, and loan impacts if projected prices are unable to be realized.
FSA is extending deadlines for producers to respond to application packages for Primary Loan Servicing and Distressed Loan Servicing. Financially distressed and delinquent direct loan borrowers who have been notified of the available loan servicing options will be provided an additional time to submit a complete application for loan servicing, accept an offer of loan servicing, provide a response to a denial of loan servicing or request homestead protection.
FSA will temporarily suspend loan accelerations, non-judicial foreclosures, and referring foreclosures to the Department of Justice. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will make the determination whether to stop foreclosures and evictions on accounts under its jurisdiction.
In addition to the existing guaranteed loan servicing options already available within the FSA guaranteed loan program, FSA is offering lenders additional flexibility. Standard Eligible Lenders (SEL) may certify that they have met all FSA requirements for annual line of credit advances and will not need FSA prior written approval.
SEL and Certified Lender Program (CLP) lenders may certify that they have met all FSA requirements for emergency advances and will not need FSA prior written approval. SEL and CLP lenders may certify that they have a feasible plan for additional loans made outside of the guarantee and will not need FSA prior written approval. Finally, loans made under the SBA’s PPP can be made at the lender’s discretion without FSA approval.
Commodity Loan Flexibilities
Producers now have more time to repay Farm Service Agency Marketing Assistance Loans (MAL), as part of the CARES Act. The loans now mature at 12 months rather than nine, and this flexibility is available for most commodities.
Effective immediately, producers of eligible commodities now have up to 12 months to repay their commodity loans. The maturity extension applies to nonrecourse loans for crop years 2018, 2019, and 2020. Eligible open loans must be in good standing with a maturity date of March 31, 2020 or later or new crop year (2019 or 2020) loans requested by Sept. 30, 2020. All new loans requested by Sept. 30, 2020 will have a maturity date 12 months following the date of approval.
The maturity extension for current, active loans will be automatically extended an additional three months. Loans that matured March 31 have already been automatically extended. Loans requested after September 30, 2020 will have a term of nine months.
Eligible commodities include barley, chickpeas (small and large), corn, cotton (upland and extra-long staple), dry peas, grain sorghum, honey, lentils, mohair, oats, peanuts, rice (long and medium grain), soybeans, unshorn pelts, wheat, wool (graded and nongraded); and other oilseeds, including canola, crambe, flaxseed, mustard seed, rapeseed, safflower, sunflower seed, and sesame seed. Seed cotton and sugar are not eligible.
Under the new maturity provisions, producers can still repay the loan as they would have before the extension. Producers can repay the MAL on or before the maturity date, upon maturity by delivering or forfeiting the commodity to CCC as loan repayment or after maturity, and before CCC acquires the farm-stored commodity, by repaying the outstanding MAL principle and interest.
A Marketing Loan Gain occurs when a MAL is repaid at less than the loan principal. If market gain is applicable during the now-extended loan period, producers can receive a gain on the repayment made before the loan matures.
Crop Acreage Reporting
Acreage reporting is key to eligibility for many USDA programs, including crop insurance, safety net, disaster assistance, farm loan and conservation programs. While USDA Service Centers are currently open by phone or virtual appointments only, FSA is still available for assistance on timely filing acreage reports. FSA staff are providing acreage reporting assistance through phone, email and virtual meetings like Microsoft Teams.
Acreage reporting dates can vary by crop and by county. Producers should contact the FSA office at their local USDA Service Center for details in their respective county.
While support for livestock is available through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program in some circumstances, limited markets and processing may cause livestock producers to depopulate herds. NRCS offers assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help agricultural producers properly dispose of livestock that were depopulated because of impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.
Through the Emergency Animal Mortality Management practice, NRCS helps producers plan and cover part of the cost for disposing of livestock because of an emergency animal mortality event. Once capacity is reached in an animal mortality facility, NRCS will help producers dispose of the remaining livestock through burying, incinerating, disposal at landfill or render, and other disposal options.
To receive assistance, both an application and approved early start waiver must be filed with the local NRCS field office prior to disposal of animal carcasses. Producers must have farm records established with the Farm Service Agency (FSA), meet all eligibility requirements, and have application filed at the local NRCS.
Prior to payment, a swine mortality certification is required by a veterinarian or animal health specialist. Payment rates for swine include: Burial: $74.28 per animal unit ($89.14 for historically underserved producers), carcass disposal other than burial: $111.53 per animal unit ($191.20 for historically underserved producers), incineration: $219.88 per animal unit ($263.86 for historically underserved producers) and disposal at landfill or render: $0.05 per pound ($.0.06 for historically underserved producers).
The Paycheck Protection Program is a guaranteed loan program administered by the SBA. The purpose of the program is to support small businesses and help support their payroll during the coronavirus pandemic. Agricultural producers, farmers, and ranchers with 500 or fewer employees whose principal place of residence is in the United States are eligible.
Farms are eligible if they have 500 or fewer employees or if they fit within the revenue-based standard, which is on average annual receipts of $1 million. Moreover, farms can qualify for PPP if they meet the SBA’s alternative size standard, which include a maximum net worth of up to $15 million and the average net income federal income taxes of the business for the two full fiscal years before the date of the application not be more than $5 million.
The EIDL Program allows for advances of up to $10,000 and borrowed funds up to $2 million. These are administered through the SBA and will provide economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. Loan advances will not have to be repaid.
SBA’s EIDL application portal reopened on May 4 as a result of funding authorized by Congress through the Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Enhancement Act. For the first time, agricultural enterprises are now eligible for the disaster assistance from EIDL. American farmers, ranchers and other agricultural businesses will now have access to emergency working capital. These low-interest, long-term loans will help keep agricultural businesses viable while bringing stability to the nation’s vitally important food supply chains.
Agricultural businesses include businesses engaged in the legal production of food and fiber, ranching and raising of livestock, aquaculture, and all other farming and agricultural related industries. Eligible agricultural businesses must have 500 or fewer employees.
For agricultural producers that submitted an EIDL loan application through the streamlined application portal prior to the legislative change, SBA will move forward and process these applications without the need for re-applying. All other EIDL loan applications that were submitted prior to April 15 will be processed on a first-in, first-out basis.