Member Alert: March 27, 2020
The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association (NDSA) is continuing to work on issues related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Following are some short updates on various coronavirus-related topics:
The NDSA participated in a several-hour-long agricultural briefing with the Congressional delegation, governor, agriculture commissioner and other government and industry leaders this week. Many topics were covered, including assurance that the development of the livestock relief program would be a top priority in the days ahead. Sen. John Hoeven is planning an agricultural roundtable discussion to cover this and related topics in the near-term. The NDSA has already begun gathering information for this discussion. Sen. Kevin Cramer also referenced a Congressional letter sent to the Department of Justice earlier this month calling for an investigation into possible price fixing impacting the cattle industry and another Congressional letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue urging swift assistance for cattle producers with the resources provided in the recently enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stabilization (CARES) Act to facilitate the stabilization of farm and ranch income to producers who are facing market volatility in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout.
H2A and other labor
On the ag briefing call this week, Rep. Kelly Armstrong, who serves on a federal oversight and immigration subcommittee, was among those who talked about the H2A program. He reminded producers that, last week, the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security authorized temporary waivers for in-person interviews for eligible H-2 visa applicants, but continue to work on this issue. He noted that 90 percent of the United States’ foreign labor comes from Mexico and that workers that were to come from South Africa may be the most difficult to get here, since the consulate offices are currently closed there.
Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring indicated that the Department of Agriculture has helped producers with questions and problems with the H2A delays. In order for the department to be helpful though, producers must first contact the federal agencies and get a case number. H2A-related information can be found at https://www.farmers.gov/manage/h2a.
H2A workers arriving in the United States are to self-isolate for 14 days before going to work. State leaders are also asking that their employers pick up their groceries and take care of their other errands during this time to minimize their contact with other people.
Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) officials have indicated that they are still required to inspect housing for H2A workers. The state team is making allowances to do those inspections via video now.
Erica Thunder, North Dakota labor commissioner, referenced a labor and human rights FAQ resource that may be helpful to agricultural employers using H2A and traditional labor pools. Among the questions included in the document are those pertaining to paid time off, required testing and employer best management practices. The document can be viewed at https://www.nd.gov/labor/sites/www/files/documents/Labor%20and%20Human%20Rights%20FAQ.pdf.
Packages from the state and newly passed federal legislation offer considerable unemployment benefits for workers. A WSI official indicated that the unemployed are still able to earn up to 60 percent of their state unemployment benefits per week without foregoing those benefits. He suggested that tapping into unemployed oilfield workers, for example, may be an option for ag producers to consider as they address their labor needs. An online resource related to WSI topics can be found at https://www.workforcesafety.com/sites/www/files/documents/employers/resources/WSI%20COVID%20Employers.pdf.
Critical infrastructure verification and supporting documentation
Several members have asked questions about how to verify they are part of federally designated critical industry infrastructure, especially as they move cattle through areas with shelter-in-place orders. A sample memo and affidavit form that may be helpful to you as you travel can be found at http://www.ndstockmen.org/image/cache/Sample_Letter_Template.pdf. Like other agricultural enterprises, veterinary services are also identified by the Department of Homeland Security as part of critical infrastructure. The department’s guidance can be found at https://www.nd.gov/labor/sites/www/files/documents/Labor%20and%20Human%20Rights%20FAQ.pdf.
Farm Service Agency
Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices in North Dakota are open by phone appointment only until further notice. Producers who have FSA loans, for example, and need FSA to endorse checks should call their local FSA office for more information about how to obtain this. The agency has adopted some relaxed personal identification information rules to accommodate producers during the pandemic.
Commercial driver licenses
The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) is now scheduling appointments for commercial driver license (CDL) knowledge and road tests, as well as adding endorsements. CDL services are available by appointment only. Walk-ins will not be accepted at this time. Appointments can be scheduled by calling NDDOT at (701) 328-3489 or (855) 633-6835 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The CDL appointments are only available to CDL drivers and temporary agricultural workers.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has extended CDL expirations until June 30 across the United States for CDLs due for renewal on or after March 1, 2020. CDL holders who have a medical certification card issued for a period of at least 90 days and that expire on or after March 1, 2020, are valid until June 30, 2020.
Governor Doug Burgum’s Executive Order 2020-07 waives the expiration date on all driver licenses that expire from March 1, 2020, until the declared disaster has ended.
While load restrictions have been lifted on state highways, a restriction was added back to North Dakota Highway 22 from the Junction of Highway 12, near Reeder, to the Junction of Highway 21, near New England, due to road damage. The seasonal load restriction was added back in accordance with Burgum’s Executive Order 2020-11, requiring the department to monitor and reimplement restrictions when damage is occurring.
Motorists are encouraged to check the load restriction map daily as restrictions may change quickly due to weather. Statewide seasonal load restriction information is available by calling 511 or online at www.dot.nd.gov/travel-info. Load restriction email updates are also available at http://www.dot.nd.gov/roadreport/loadlimit/loadlimitinfo.asp.
The Bank of North Dakota (BND) has in place the Agricultural Disaster Relief Loan Program. Of the $300 million set aside for the program, $225 million remains in the fund. Borrowers must be North Dakota residents whose principal occupation is farming or ranching or a North Dakota family farm entity. Evidence of an operating shortfall must be provided. The borrowers must also show the ability to repay. The loan terms are as follows: For chattel loans, there is an up-to-10-year amortization with a five-year balloon. The first 12 months may be interest only and will convert to permanent to be amortized over the remaining term. For real estate loans, there is an up-to-25-year amortization with a five-year balloon. The first 12 months may be interest only and will convert to permanent to be amortized over the remaining term. The BND nets 3.5 percent fixed interest for up to five years. The lead lender (participating local bank) will have the option to add up to a 0.25 percent fee on BND’s participation. The lead lender’s portion may not exceed BND’s base rate (Wall Street Journal Prime Rate) plus 2 percent. There is a $250 origination fee. For more information, visit https://bnd.nd.gov/ag/ag-disaster-relief-loan-program/#1442951239246-bdfb7960-9b84 or call your local lender.
Additional tools authorized through the CARES Act will be available soon, including some forgivable loan options for some agribusinesses delivered via the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA will be providing the guidance on these loans.
Burgum issued executive orders this week that extend the deadlines for livestock auction market licensing and restricted-use pesticide application licensing.
Goehring addressed a question several producers have asked about the possibility of allowing meat harvested in a custom-exempt facility to be sold at retail. This, he said, would violate both state and federal laws and so is not a possibility.
A JBS beef packing plant in Souderton, Pa., is temporarily closing for two weeks due to employee COVID-19 illness. The plant will continue both fabrication and ground beef operations, however. The plant anticipates reopening April 14. The facility is the largest beef facility east of Chicago. More than 75 percent of its production is finished cattle, with the remaining portion being cull cows and bulls, according to BEEF. The plant harvests 2,500 head per day and recently added a Saturday kill.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife easement maps
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of issuing updated easement maps to landowners as part of a North-Dakota-led effort to provide meaningful reform to the agency’s implementation of the Waterfowl Production Area (WPA) easement program. Once landowners receive the maps, they have 40 days to review and appeal them. An effort is being made to extend that timeframe given the pandemic situation.
Ag economics information
North Dakota State University Extension will be hosting a series of agricultural economics webinars in response to COVID-19. The webinars begin at 12:30 p.m. CT each Friday. Presenters include Tim Petry, NDSU Extension livestock economist; David Ripplinger, NDSU Extension bioproducts/bioenergy economist; Ron Haugen, NDSA Extension farm management specialist; Byron Parman, NDSU Extension ag finance specialist; and Frayne Olson, NDSU Extension crops economist. For webinar login information and recordings of past webinars, visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/alerts/coronavirus or search for “NDSU Extension coronavirus.”
Mental health resources
The coronavirus situation and a culmination of other factors have made this a stressful time for many farm and ranch families across North Dakota. Know that you are not alone. If you need someone to talk to, call a friend or a neighbor, our office or 211, a statewide 24-hour crisis intervention, health and human services information and referral line.
Sale and industry event changes and cancellations
The NDSA is compiling a list of industry event and cattle sale changes and cancellations. The list, along with other coronavirus resources, can be found at http://www.ndstockmen.org/association/industry-issues/COVID_19. If you have a change or cancellation to report, call our office at (701) 223-2522 and we will add it to the list.