Category Archives: Government Affairs

Sod Farmers Encouraged to Apply for CFAP2 funds by December 11th

TPI was notified on December 1st that The United States Farm Service Agency encourages sod farmers to apply for CFAP2 funds at their local FSA office prior to the December 11th, 2020 deadline. Producers interested in CFAP2 are encouraged to submit an application to the program before December 11th. This action ensures any future changes to the program impacting your application or eligibility are streamlined.

TPI has been working with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) to allow sod farmers to apply for federal relief through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP and CFAP2). FSA staff have told us that we can expect a decision on sod’s eligibility to be announced in the Federal Register sometime in January of 2021.

The Farm Service Agency will post a Notification of Funding Availability (NOFA) announcement in January in the US Federal Register. “We are in close contact with FSA officials in Washington, D.C. and they have assured me that they will notify us when the NOFA is posted”, says Dr. Reynolds. “We will absolutely stay on top of this for our members and let them know as soon as the FSA announces their decision.”

It is important to note that there is no guarantee yet that sod will be added as an eligible commodity, which is what we are waiting to learn in the NOFA next January. For now though, the FSA has encouraged producers wishing to apply for funds to go ahead and get their applications into the system and processed ahead of the December 11th deadline. This ensures any future changes to the program impacting your application or eligibility are streamlined.

Click the link below to learn more or begin the application process.

TPI Expects Decision in January 2021 on Covid Relief Funds

TPI has been working with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) to allow sod farmers to apply for federal relief through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP2). FSA staff have told us that we can expect a decision to be announced in the Federal Register sometime in January of 2021. On September 18th, the USDA announced additional funds up to $14 billion that may be available to farmers who continue to face market disruptions and additional costs associated with Covid-19. TPI and the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) have been trying to determine if US natural grass sod farmers experienced a decrease in sales volume or sales price from January 15th to July 31st, 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

We released a call for information in early October and sod farms from throughout the United States responded with pricing and volume data for the first two quarters of 2020, when Covid-19 impacts were most substantial. The USDA Farm Service Agency received substantial input and has indicated to TPI that they will be releasing a decision in January 2021 on the eligibility of sod farmers to request relief through CFAP2 funds. There will be a Notification of Funding Availability (NOFA) announcement in January in the US Federal Register, and we will share it with TPI members and the industry as soon as it is posted, so please stay tuned for more information.

In addition to working with USDA-FSA Staff, TPI’s executive director Dr. Casey Reynolds also visited with USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey in October at Turf Mountain Sod in Hendersonville, NC to discuss this important topic.

Please reach out to us if you have further questions, and we will be happy to assist you. Email Dr. Reynolds at creynolds@TurfgrassSod.org or 800-405-8873 for further information

DOT Issues Interim Final Ruling on Sod as Agriculture

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced on November 24th, 2020 an Interim Final Rule (IFR) on agricultural commodities as defined in the U.S. federal transportation code 49 CFR 395.2. Recent mandates on Electronic Logging Devices have caused confusion among truck drivers, farm owners, and enforcement officials as to who can or cannot claim important agricultural exemptions relative to Hours of Service (HOS) and Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs). TPI has been working with the FMCSA on this issue since December 2018 to make sure that U.S. sod haulers get included in these important agricultural exemptions. “We are pleased to announce to the industry today that this new ruling removes any ambiguity around whether or not sod is an agricultural commodity”, says Dr. Casey Reynolds, TPI’s executive director.

“Our members have expressed to TPI how important these exemptions are and we have been working behind the scenes on their behalf since 2018 to make sure they are able to get their perishable products to market. We want to thank the officials at the FMCSA for their time, support, and transparency as we navigated the federal rule-making process.”

“This is a classic example of the value and importance of trade associations like TPI and the many state associations who work on behalf of sod farms”, says Dr. Reynolds. “We could not perform this type of work without the membership dues paid by our members, and we thank them for their support.”

The official summary and the new ag commodity definition as stated in the announcement are listed below. TPI will submit comments on behalf of the sod industry but any producer willing to submit public comments can do so as well through the link below. Comments must be submitted on or before December 24, 2020.

FMCSA Summary of the Ruling

FMCSA clarifies the definition of the terms “any agricultural commodity,” “livestock,” and “non-processed food,” as the terms are used in the definition of “agricultural commodity” for the purposes of the Agency’s “Hours of Service (HOS) of Drivers” regulations. Under current regulations, drivers transporting agricultural commodities, including livestock, from the source of the commodities to a location within 150 air miles of the source, during harvest and planting seasons as defined by each State, are exempt from the HOS requirements. Furthermore, the HOS requirement for a 30-minute rest break does not apply to drivers transporting livestock in interstate commerce while the livestock are on the commercial motor vehicle. This interim final rule (IFR) clarifies the meaning of these existing definitional terms to ensure that the HOS exemptions are utilized as Congress intended.

This IFR defines agricultural commodities under 49CFR 395.2 as follows:

49CFR 395.2 Definitions.

Agricultural commodity means:
(1) Any agricultural commodity, non-processed food, feed, fiber, or livestock as defined in this section.

(2) As used in this definition, the term “any agricultural commodity” means horticultural products at risk of perishing, or degrading in quality, during transport by commercial motor vehicle, including plants, sod, flowers, shrubs, ornamentals, seedlings, live trees, and Christmas trees.

Click “Read More” below to see the full announcement in the U.S. Federal Register as well as instructions on how to submit public comments.

USDA Under Secretary Discusses Covid Impacts on Farms

Bill Northey, the USDA’s Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation visited TPI member Linda Bradley’s farm in Hendersonville, NC on October 20th, 2020. He was there to meet with sod, blackberry, and Christmas tree farmers to discuss the impacts of Covid-19 on farms and marketing channels. TPI was on-hand to to share with the Under Secretary many of the experiences that have been relayed by TPI members with regard to how Covid-19 has impacted their operations. On September 18th, the USDA announced an additional $14B in federal aid for farmers impacted by Covid-19, but as of the date of this event, sod farmers have been ineligible to apply for relief funds. TPI has been working directly with the USDA Farm Service Agency to get included in recent federal relief programs administered through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP2).

Also in attendance were state and county representatives form the NC offices of the USDA Farm Service Agency as well as the Executive Director from the NC Christmas Tree Growers Association and representatives from the NC blackberry industry.

Prior to leading the Farm Programs and Conservation Mission Area overseeing the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Risk Management Agency and the Farm Service Agency, Mr. Northey served as the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture from 2006 to 2018. A fourth-generation farmer, Mr. Northey served as a commissioner of the Dickinson County Soil and Water Conservation District, and president and chairman of the National Corn Growers Association. He was also president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture from September 2011 through September 2012, while serving as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.

Mr. Northey has a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Business from Iowa State University and an MBA from Southwest Minnesota State University.

USDA Farm Service Agency Request for Covid-19 Impacts on Natural Grass Sod Sales

The USDA Farm Service Agency has requested information from U.S. sod farms on the impacts of Covid-19 to their sales volume and prices during the period of January 15th to July 31st 2020. On September 18th, the USDA announced additional funds up to $14 billion that may be available to farmers who continue to face market disruptions and additional costs associated with Covid-19. These funds are administered through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP2) and TPI has been working with the USDA Farm Service Agency on this issue to determine if US natural grass sod farmers experienced a decrease in sales volume or sales price from January 15th to July 31st, 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

If you are interested in this program, please submit your sales volume and pricing data during the period of January 15th to July 31st 2019 and 2020 to Georgi Gabrielyan at georgi.gabrielyan@usda.gov using the spreadsheet below titled “Covid-19 Impacts on Sod Sales” on or before Friday, October 16th.

Covid-19 Impacts on Sod Sales

Please reach out to Dr. Casey Reynolds at creynolds@TurfgrassSod.org or 800-405-8873 for further information.

U.S. EPA Announces Decision on Atrazine and Simazine Registration

On September 22nd, The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an interim decision on proposed changes to the labels for Atrazine and Simazine. These herbicides are used for pre-emergence and early post-emergence control of many grassy and broadleaf weed species in warm-season grasses. While there were mandatory reductions in use rates for residential turf, there were little to no changes for atrazine or simazine use in sod production. For more details on the announcement, please click “Read More” below for a brief summary and links to the official decisions.

USDA Announces Additional $14B Covid-19 Relief to Farmers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that there will be an additional set of funds available to farmers who have experienced market disruptions resulting from Covid-19. These funds will be administered through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) under CFAP2 and will be available from September 21st through December 11th 2020. TPI is currently working with the USDA Farm Service Agency to determine if sod producers are eligible for these funds as they were not included in the first round of federal relief under CFAP earlier this year. Visit the website below to learn more about how to apply for these funds for other agricultural commodities, particularly food crops.

USDA Announces Additional Crops Eligible For CFAP Relief

USDA Announces Additional Crops Eligible for CFAP Relief

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that additional commodities would now be covered under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced on August 11 that the deadline to apply for CFAP has been extended to September 11th, from the original deadline of August 28th, 2020. When the CFAP program was first released in May of 2020 the horticulture industry and specialty crops, including sod, were not part of the original funding program. However, the USDA also announced as part of Docket ID: FSA-2020-0004 that they would be willing to consider additional crops to be eligible for CFAP funding and that they were particularly interested in nursery products, aquaculture products, and cut flowers.

As a result of this request for information, AmericanHort partnered with state and national associations, Farm Bureau, and others to build a coalition of over 100 groups to communicate the needs of the horticulture industry to the USDA, the U.S. Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Congress. After these efforts, the USDA announced that it was going to extend CFAP eligibility to nursery and cut flower crops as well as indoor and outdoor grown plant materials.

Inventory already shipped but unpaid, spoiled, or that was lost due to marketing channels from January 15th to April 15th is eligible for funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) act. Additionally, the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) program will pay for inventory that has not left the farm and has spoiled or not able to be sold from January 15th to April 15th. Any inventory that can be sold after April 15th is ineligible for funding. Additionally, it is important to note that the reimbursement rate is different between CARES and CCC. The CARES act will reimburse products at 15.55% of the wholesale inventory and CCC reimburses at the rate of 13.45% of wholesale inventory. Payment limits through CFAP are $250,000 per person or entity.

Natural grass sod meets the definitional requirements of specialty crops, but it does not currently qualify for funding through CARES or CCC because it does not meet the requirement of a 5% or greater price reduction during the period of January 13th to April 10th, 2020. If your farm has experienced this price reduction then please contact Dr. Casey Reynolds at TPI’s office so that we can work with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to document these losses for future funding opportunities.

For more information on the CFAP program and funding requirements, please visit Farmers.gov by clicking “Read More” below.

The U.S. DOT Deems Sod to be Agriculture for Hours of Service Regulations

On August 5th, 2020 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published in the federal register that they have determined sod to be agriculture and as such U.S sod haulers can claim important Hours of Service (HOS) exemptions as part 49 CFR 395.1(k)(1), commonly referred to as the 150 air-mile radius rule. This ruling comes on the heels of two years of collaboration between the FMCSA and TPI which began in 2018 after several TPI members reported to us that they were experiencing confusion among local law enforcement officials as to which crops can or cannot claim important agricultural commodity exemptions. Much of this began when a new mandate on Electronic Logging Devices and Hours of Service Supporting Documents was published in the federal register in 2015 under Docket No. FMCSA-2010-0167.

This mandate established minimum performance standards for ELDs and required their use for documenting hours of service after the full compliance date took effect on December 16th, 2019. While the rule and the date seemed clear, it was often unclear among truck drivers and law enforcement officials with regard to who could claim agricultural exemptions relieving them of HOS and electronic logging devices (ELD) requirements. The FMCSA’s agricultural commodity definition in 49 CFR 395.2 defines agricultural commodities as “Agricultural commodity means any agricultural commodity, non-processed food, feed, fiber, or livestock (including livestock as defined in sec. 602 of the Emergency Livestock Feed Assistance Act of 1988 [7 U.S.C. 1471] and insects)”. However, modern agriculture includes many other commodities outside of food, feed, fiber, or livestock that are commonly recognized as agriculture by other federal and state entities. This confusion caused many agricultural associations, including TPI, to reach out to the FMCSA directly for clarity.

TPI’s executive director, Dr. Casey Reynolds, and TPI’s policy consultant Jonathan Moore met with FMCSA officials in November 2018 to discuss this topic. “After almost two years of working with the FMCSA, we are pleased to announce to U.S. sod farmers that they can in fact claim important agricultural commodity exemptions for getting their perishable products safely to market”, says Dr. Reynolds. “We appreciate and respect the time and efforts of FMCSA officials and thank them for their accessibility, cooperation, and transparency throughout this entire process.”

The official announcement can be found in the U.S. Federal Register at the link below. Note that the ruling may seem confusing, as it states that the action by FMCSA is a denial of application for exemption (from TPI) as moot. The reason for this is that FMCSA analyzed our application, public comments, and applicable law and they determined that turfgrass sod is an agricultural commodity already subject to the HOS exemption, so the exemption was unnecessary, therefore moot. TPI’s application was submitted under 49 CFR 381 – Waivers, Exemptions, and Pilot Programs with the intent of requesting that FMCSA include turfgrass sod in the definition of an agriculture commodity.

For more information on this important ruling, please consult the resources below or call our office and we will be happy to discuss it with you. TPI members can also download this announcement and the full list of exemptions from the TPI member portal for their drivers to keep in their trucks. These documents help in determining which exemptions apply when hauling agricultural commodities as well as making them available for sharing with local enforcement officials if needed.

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The official announcement can be found in the U.S. Federal Register at the link below.

Hours of Service of Drivers: Turfgrass Producers International; Application for Exemption https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/08/05/2020-17087/hours-of-service-of-drivers-turfgrass-producers-international-application-for-exemption