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USDA offers flexibility amid ongoing pandemic

Article cover photo
Bill Northey and other top state and national officials participated in an Iowa Soybean Association webinar yesterday to help farmers navigate these difficult times. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer

In the ongoing effort to keep farmers informed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) hosted a webinar featuring three high-ranking officials to explain the programs and processes in place to assist farmers during this time of uncertainty.

Bill Northey, Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation in the United States Department of Agriculture since 2018, summed it up best:

“What crazy times we live in,” said the former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. “What a challenge for all our producers, the food system, consumers, everybody out there. It’s certainly been a challenge for us to figure out how best we respond.”

Northey oversees the work done within the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Risk Management Agency.

He said flexibility has been key during these times. The USDA has adjusted timelines and procedures to streamline the flow of information and goods.

“We’ve looked internally at our own processes in where we can be more flexible,” Northey said.

Flexible arrangements have been essential in the work of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, said Richard Fordyce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator.

The Agency is monitoring signup deadlines and utilizing newer technologies to be able to interact with farmers and get signatures for signups.

“We’re looking at every program, every deadline and we’ll do what makes sense for producers, farmers and ranchers,” Fordyce said.

Jeff Plagge, superintendent of the Iowa Division of Banking, says there are many questions about how farmers can benefit under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and its $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program.

“The Program has been a little bit like changing a tire on the car as it’s rolling down the road,” Plagge said. “It’s coming together in pieces.”

Program dollars are draining rapidly, Plagge noted. Since signup for the program began April 3, $247 billion has been awarded through more than 1 million loans.

As of April 14, Plagge said 22,295 loans had been approved for $3.7 billion in Iowa.

He gave some guidance to farmers filling out loan applications through the program.

"Self-employed farmers (i.e. those who report their net farm profit on IRA Form 1040 Schedule I and Schedule F) should use IRS Form 1040 Schedule F in lieu of Schedule C, and Schedule F line 34 net farm profit should be used to determine their loan amount in place of Schedule C line 31 net profit. The 2019 IRS Form 1040 Schedule 1 and Schedule F should be included with the loan application." 

No adjustments to the Schedule F can be made, Plagge said. In other words you can't add back depreciation or prepaid expenses to improve the net income number. 

Potential support

ISA President Tim Bardole hoped he would fetch a better price by selling harvested bagged corn to the ethanol plant this spring. But ethanol prices have tanked, and plants are losing money—and not buying grain. It’s another situation stacked against farmers as they prepare to plant their fields.

Bardole asked Northey if there was a plan to help farmers who are once again facing multiple headwinds.

What are the chances of another Market Facilitation Payment?

“Not that I’m pleading for help from the government because I hate help from the government, but I want to survive also, and I think there are a lot of farmers in that same position,” said Bardole, who farms near Rippey.

The Market Facilitation Program began as a way to support farmers who felt the impact of the ongoing trade war and retaliations between the United States and China. But there could be funds available to support farmers, Northey said. The answer to this question and more can be found on the webinar.

Contact Bethany Baratta at bbaratta@iasoybeans.com.

ISA is driven to deliver timely news and valuable programs to you. Don’t miss out — activate or validate your ISA membership today at iasoybeans.com/join.

Watch the recording.
Watch the recording.

For media inquiries, permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at kjames@iasoybeans.com. © 2020 Iowa Soybean Association. All rights reserved.