Legislature Back Next Week?

The COVID-19 outbreak has put the Nebraska Legislature on hiatus. The body recessed March 12 and ultimately did not return this week due to COVID-19 concerns. It’s rumored state senators might return to Lincoln next week to pass emergency funding to address the outbreak. Lawmakers return would likely be brief and limited to that subject matter. Property tax relief, business incentives, and other issues are unlikely to be discussed. No official announcement regarding the body returning has been made.

FB Leadership, Staff Working on COVID-19 Issue

Farm Bureau was busy this week working at the state and national levels on issues related to COVID-19. Among the actions:

  • Nebraska Farm Bureau (NEFB) took part in a conference call Thursday with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) to share feedback on agriculture concerns related to the pandemic. Farm Bureau worked closely with NDA and the Governor’s office during last year’s flooding and will continue to collaborate as the COVID-19 situation evolves.
  • One of the issues already remedied by keeping the lines of communication open were concerns raised by livestock haulers struggling with the shutdown of rest areas in the state. Closing of gates to the rest areas prevented truckers from being able to park and rest when their hours of service were up. While rest area facilities remain closed, gates are now opened, and trucks can pull in.
  • NEFB visited with USDA leadership, including Under Secretary Greg Ibach about potential disruptions in Nebraska’s meat packing industry as well as the need to ensure agricultural supply chains stay open.
  • NEFB strongly urged USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to monitor growing concerns that exist in livestock markets and work to ensure price manipulation does not occur. The American Farm Bureau has also been in communication with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which has oversight over spot markets.
  • NEFB communicated with members of Nebraska’s Congressional Delegation relating similar concerns and discussed the need to maintain an agricultural workforce through the H2A program throughout the country and the need for aid to rural America as Congress takes up a number of COVID-19 relief packages.
  • NEFB also spoke with USDA-Farm Service Agency officials about the potential for additional program options for producers who have seen significant market fluctuations over the past several weeks.

FMCSA Expands Hours of Service Relief to Include Livestock

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued an expanded national emergency declaration to provide hours-of-service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency relief in response to the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak. The Emergency Declaration provides regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations, including transportation to meet immediate needs for several items that are pertinent to agriculture like food, paper products, and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores. DOT has indicated that this language includes livestock and other perishables, but it does not include feed at this time.

Countries Working on USMCA Implementation

Now that all three countries have approved the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Agreement the nations are working to implement the trade deal which is expected to increase U.S. agricultural exports by $2 billion with its two largest trading partners. All three countries are hurriedly working towards establishing the different mechanisms that they promised to do so everything is in place for the deal to go into effect as soon as June 1. All three countries are making legal changes, and establishing dispute mechanism panels, to allow the deal to go into effect. For example, Canada must eliminate the Class 7 milk pricing system that it’s got in place. Mexico must make some changes to their labor laws, so, all those things are happening now. The hope is that there won’t be any delays, but as the outbreak continues to evolve, the June 1 date is still a big question mark.