Category Archives: Government Affairs

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

FMCSA Publishes New Final Rule on ELD and HOS Mandate

Turfgrass Producers International has been working closely with the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on recent legislation regarding Hours of Service (HOS) and Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) since 2017. 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 caused much confusion among truck drivers and law enforcement officials with regard to who could claim agricultural exemptions relieving them of HOS and ELD requirements. This confusion caused many agricultural associations, including TPI, to reach out to the FMCSA directly for clarity.

One Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) published in September of 2018 under Docket No. FMCSA-2018-0248 called for industry comments in four specific areas including the short-haul HOS exemption, adverse driving conditions, the 30-minute rest break provision, and the sleeper berth rule to allow drivers to split their required sleeper berth time. On May 14th, 2020 the FMCSA published a final rule around these changes, and they will take effect 120 days after the date of publication. Complete details on this final rule can be found on FMCSA’s website at https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/us-department-transportation-modernizes-hours-service-rules-improve-safety-and-increase and in the July/August issue of Turf News magazine.

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USDA Announces Details of Direct Assistance to Farmers

(Washington, D.C., May 19, 2020) – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to deliver relief to America’s farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Farmers and ranchers will receive direct support, drawn from two possible funding sources. The first source of funding is $9.5 billion in appropriated funding provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability (CARES) Act to compensate farmers for losses due to price declines that occurred between mid-January 2020, and mid-April 2020 and provides support for specialty crops for product that had been shipped from the farm between the same time period but subsequently spoiled due to loss of marketing channels.

Request for Additional Commodities

Sod is not currently on the list of eligible commodities for relief funds. Producers of commodities not included on the original CFAP list who believe they’ve suffered a five percent-or-greater price decline between January and April 2020, and who face additional marketing costs due to COVID-19, may submit comments to provide information about additional commodities. The USDA will consider additional crops to be eligible for CFAP by collecting information on potentially eligible crops, and TPI has been in direct communication with them.

USDA is particularly interested in the obtaining information with respect to the following specific categories of agricultural commodities:

  • Nursery Products
  • Aquaculture Products
  • Cut Flowers

Read more about this request for information. TPI is working with the USDA on market impacts to sod production. If you have experience or information to share from your area please contact TPI directly at 847-649-5555.

CFAP applications open on May 26th.

Click below to read the full article

Sod Checkoff Initiative Launches New Website

sod industry checkoff

Members of the U.S sod production industry have asked Turfgrass Producers International (TPI) to investigate the potential industry-wide interest and impacts of a potential sod industry checkoff. Over the next 12-18 months, TPI will host online webinars to seek input from producers and to share information on what a potential checkoff could look like for the sod industry. The first webinar is to be held on Tuesday, May 19th from 11am to 1pm EDT.

This is the first official meeting to discuss the potential of a sod checkoff program and now is the first of many opportunities to provide input and get involved. Any sod industry checkoff would be designed, implemented and governed by sod producers, for sod producers and all U.S. sod producers will have a chance to provide input on establishing an industry-wide checkoff.

Please go to http://sodcheckoff.org to learn more, submit questions, and to sign up for email alerts about upcoming webinars and other important information.

 

TPI and Coronavirus: Shared Solutions for Farms

Date: March 23rd, 2020

Subject: Coronavirus Impacts and Resources

Dear fellow sod producers and industry professionals,

The current coronavirus pandemic has impacted our daily lives in ways that just weeks or even days ago may have seemed incomprehensible. I am sure that the health and well-being of your families, employees, and farms are at the top of your mind. As we navigate our way through this uncharted territory the TPI Board of Trustees and Staff are diligently working to provide as much support and resources as we can to turfgrass seed and sod producers worldwide.

Facebook Group for “TPI and Coronavirus: Shared Solutions”

Log onto Facebook to see solutions like those included below and to share your own successes. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2260051950968694/about/

  • Provide customers more options for remote sales and pickups that reduce physical interaction
  • Reduce shared items (trucks, phones, computers, etc.) among employees and/or dedicate specific items to each employee where possible
  • Reduce or eliminate shared items such as time clocks or paper logs that multiple employees may have to touch daily
  • Provide EPA approved disinfectant/sanitizer in as many areas as possible
  • Locks sales offices and post signs to let customers know you are still open and taking orders
  • Post English and Spanish COVID-19 posters in the workplace (see Helpful Resources below)
  • Provide reporting procedures for employees to comfortably report health, known or anonymous
  • Check out the Facebook Group page “TPI and Coronavirus: Shared Solutions” for more tips

Helpful Resources

Covid-19: How to Protect Yourself

Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

EPA List of Approved COVID-19 Disinfectants

Printable Posters and Brochures for the Workplace, English and Spanish

American Farm Bureau: Impacts of COVID-19 on Agriculture

USDA Coronavirus Resources

US Department of Labor Coronavirus Resources

Small Business Guidance (US SBA)

CARES Act Information

Call to Action

TPI is working hard to make sure that our voice is heard by elected officials and policymakers during these difficult times. Please contact your secretary of agriculture, elected officials, Farm Bureau, and others to let them know that your farms are part of the agricultural community and need to be included in important farm exemptions. Please reach out to TPI’s board of trustees and staff if we can help.

Sincerely,

Hank Kerfoot

TPI 2020 President

Federal and State Guidance on Essential Services, Agriculture

Many states are looking to the federal government for clarity on essential services classification and how it impacts farms in their communities.The USDA and other federal partners, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have released guidance to help state and local jurisdictions and the private sector to identify and manage essential services. The CISA’s coronavirus resources page contains many resources on essential services, including food and agriculture. Please consult the CISA website below for further information.

CISA doesn’t dictate how individual states have to classify essential services, but rather they offer guidance only. Additionally, some states have provided more specific guidance on particular segments of agriculture including sod production as well as horticultural industries, landscaping, etc. Given the rapidly evolving status of Coronavirus worldwide these classifications can change daily, so please consult global, national, and local resources when possible for applicable laws in your area.

Write your US Senator to Fix Ag Commodity Trucking Laws

Congressional representatives recently penned a letter to Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), both of whom serve on the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. This letter was signed by 33 U.S. Congressmen and women who called on them to end the ambiguity in U.S. trucking regulations resulting from the recent mandate on Electronic Logging Devices. This letter specifically lists turfgrass and asks for its continued recognition as an agricultural commodity by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Now, a similar letter is being written to Representative Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI) in the U.S. Senate. This letter is currently supported by Rep. David Perdue (R-GA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and now is your chance to provide your support. Please use the link below to notify your Senators to support this common sense legislation and end the current ambiguity around agricultural commodities with regard to federal trucking laws.

Thanks to AmericanHort for providing this online link. Click below to provide your comments.