COVID-Related Farm Law News
Remaining funding options. Well, the bad news is that the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, is now closed for business – PPP stopped taking applications on June 30th. However, the good news is that as of last Tuesday, there was still $128 billion in the PPP pot, and there are rumblings about possible additional legislation coming out soon to allocate the remaining funds. So, stay tuned as we learn more on the future of PPP. In the meantime, you can still apply for EIDL grants/loans, which opened up last week to all small businesses but is still very much available for farm businesses. Oh, and if you have received a PPP loan and need to understand how to apply for forgiveness of the loan, you can watch our webinar on the far more flexible forgiveness process that is now available.
Small and nimble is good in COVID times. Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jumped over the candlestick…Mother Goose’s rhyme was about the sport of candlestick jumping, but it may as well about a farmer named Jack in the time of COVID-19. It has become clear that in these strange times, the farmers who are going to survive are the ones who are able to shift gears quickly and move into new markets, which requires great nimbleness and an ability to think fast to avoid economic catastrophe. Our farmer friends over at Funks Grove in central Illinois tell us in their blogpost A Thousand Small Chains about the remarkable and dogged efforts the many farmers in their region have undertaken to keep their communities fed and their farms afloat. They’ve been able to do this because they are small and nimble, which can’t be said about the behemoth of the industrial food chain.
General Farm Law News
Price-fixing: The tuna guy can’t do it but can I? The CEO of Bumble Bee foods was just handed a three-plus year prison sentence for spearheading a price-fixing scheme with other tuna companies. CEOs of the largest chicken companies and the “Big Four” meatpacking companies are under investigation and may be next in line to receive their orange suits and handcuffs. What is price-fixing, you ask? Price fixing is when competing businesses work together to determine prices. Wait a minute… don’t farmers’ markets sometimes set baseline prices that farmers aren’t allowed to sell below? Are they headed for the slammer, too? The answer is that no, thanks to a 1922 law called the Capper-Volstead Act, persons “engaged in the production of agricultural products as farmers, planters, ranchmen, dairymen, nut or fruit growers” may form associations through which they collectively process, prepare, handle and market their products. It does have limits, though. Farmers will only be allowed to fix prices for products sold through the association, usually a cooperative, as long as they don’t engage in anticompetitive conduct (e.g. predatory practices, price discrimination etc.). Learn more about the tuna trouble here, and more about the agricultural “price-fixing” exemption here.
LGBT+ Victory and rural America. The Supreme Court recently decided in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, that it’s a violation of federal law to refuse to hire or to fire someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or identity. So what’s the upshot for farms? Farms must consider all applicants for a position equally, regardless of their gender identity or expression. This won’t come as a suprise or a burden to the many farms that welcome a diverse workforce. However, even the most well-intentioned farms sometimes hire only people of a specific gender identity, expression, or sexual orientation because they aren’t able to offer the separate sleeping quarters or bathroom facilities that a gender-diverse workforce needs (and OSHA may require). Even if the motivation is cost-savings, the practice is discrimination. By investing in our capacity to welcome all gender identities and sexual orientations, the result is the freedom to farm for everyone. Read more about the Supreme’s decision here.
Why Have America’s Black Farmers Disappeared?
John Boyd Jr. owns a successful 210-acre farm in Virginia. He is also the founder of the National Black Farmers Union, which has sought justice for thousands of black farmers who were denied loans on the basis of the color of their skin in the 1980s and 90s. Yet still today, Boyd gives his soybeans to his white father-in-law to sell to ensure he gets a fair price as when he goes to market himself, inevitably he comes up short. This can’t be because Boyd is not a good salesperson or not confident – look at his successful history with NBFU. Boyd’s experience tells a lot about why there are only 45,000 black farmers in America today. As Boyd says, “I lose money if I sell them myself…In 2019, that shouldn’t be happening. I shouldn’t be losing money because I’m black.” Yes it is still happening, and is a powerful indicator of why America has a tiny fraction of the million black farmers in America a hundred years ago.