The Sprout: News and Solutions in Farm Law

COVID Relief News

PPP extended to August 8th. Finally, we have an answer on what the government will do with all that money that’s left in the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) pot. The PPP application period was set to expire on June 30 but at the 11th hour the Senate swooped in to pass a bill to extend it another month. The House approved the bill the very next day and on America’s strangest birthday ever, the president signed the bill into law. Small businesses now have until August 8th to apply for funding to cover payroll and other expenses.  It’s unclear how much is currently left but when it was set to expire at the end of June there was $130 billion remaining. Farmers, go get your PPP! Read more about the PPP extension here. We will also let you know in future newsletters if Congress passes a relief bill that provides farmers with a second round of PPP eligibility.

The EIDL advance program is out of money. The grants portion of the EIDL (Economic Injury & Disaster Loan) program has run out its emergency funds. Congress allocated $20 billion for the SBA (Small Business Administration) to give out emergency grants to small businesses struggling from the pandemic. The emergency grants were mostly between $1,000 and $10,000 and were a godsend for businesses struggling from the pandemic. While the grant portion of the EIDL program is now over, do note that the loan portion is still very much alive. Small businesses, including farms, can still take advantage of low-interest loans (3.75%) with 30-year repayment periods and a one year deferral before repayment begins. Read more here.

Wells Fargo is donating PPP fees to help small businesses that are suffering the most.

The PPP program raked in oodles of revenue in administrative fees for the bigger banks that processed the loans. Wells Fargo grossed probably more such fees than any other bank. Wells Fargo is thankfully not just pocketing the profits, but has just announced it will be donating its $400 million in processing fees to support small businesses struggling from the pandemic. Not only that, it will be focusing much of this effort at helping Black and minority-owned small businesses, which have been disproportionately affected by the COVID crisis, closing at twice the rate of other businesses. According to Wells Fargo, “Nonprofits who serve businesses owned by racially and ethnically underrepresented individuals and focus on lending to these businesses are eligible for the initial grant cycle.” Learn more information about the program and how to apply here.


COVID-Related Farm Law News

Discrimination, COVID & farmworkers

It’s no secret that there are serious health and safety issues on many of the bigger, corporate farms, and that BIPOC workers are disproportionately affected. Sadly, the COVID crisis has only magnified these problems. In a new documentary COVID’s Hidden Toll airing on PBS’s Frontline, we hear first-hand from Latino farmworkers how they must choose between their job and their health at a time where Latinos nationwide are dying from COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate. This then, is not just a health and safety problem, but a discrimination problem. Also, it’s not just limited to farming. The meatpacking industry is under fire right now as Tyson and JBS have just been sued for civil rights violations in their failure to follow CDC guidelines, leading to sickness and death of many Black, Asian and Hispanic workers in their facilities.

Legislative solutions to Farmworker safety problems
At Farm Commons, we know that litigation is critical to making change, but we also know that taking upfront, proactive measures can prevent the need for litigation to ever have to happen. So what kind of proactive measures can we take to prevent farmworkers from getting sick and experiencing civil rights violations? For a start, rules mandating COVID safety protocols on farms help set a single baseline for responsible action. The CDC has only guidelines, which cannot be legally enforced, and to date only eight states have enacted COVID safety requirements for farms (see the Environmental Working Group’s report here.) If farms are held to increased standards, however, they also need more funding to purchase PPE and implement safety protocols so they don’t have to choose between financial safety and worker safety. Oregon has a good initiative that strikes a good balance. If more states don’t follow suit, farmworker advocates will be left to work their way through the judicial system, which we can see happening in a lawsuit in Washington state.


News From Further Afield

Exploring deeper why Black farmers are disappearing – “Heirs Property”

In the last edition of the Sprout, we wrote about the unsetting disappearance of Black farmers in America, who have diminished from one million in 1920 to only 45,000 today in part due to discrimination in farm lending. There’s another reason why Black farmers are disappearing from the land: “Heirs Property.” Heirs property refers to the laws that dictate how land is inherited when a person dies without a will: that person’s heirs inherit their land. At first blush this may not sound like a problem, but the results can be disastrous. Generations later hundreds of heirs may own land together, leading to an inability to obtain loans and vulnerability to developers. Learn more about Heirs Property by listening to Farm Common’s latest podcast.

Bayer can’t bear to lose… Times have not been good for Bayer, the German corporation that recently bought Monsanto. The company inherited Monsanto’s string of glyphosate-causing-cancer lawsuits and now there’s the dicamba debacle. But Bayer just won’t stop. Last month a Ninth Circuit judge vacated Bayer’s registrations for certain dicamba products, as the evidence revealed what a chemical drift disaster it caused for surrounding fields. Bayer just moved to have the court reconsider its findings. Then with the glyphosate cases, Bayer didn’t exactly like the jury verdict to award $289 million to a school groundskeeper who contracted cancer after using its products. It came back whining to the court and got the award reduced to $20.5 million. 

Corporations have rights, shouldn’t soil too? 

Soil gets a really bad rap, right? It’s just dirt – dirty, dirty dirt. Scum of the earth, that sort of thing. Dr. Rattan Lal, the 2020 winner of the World Food Prize for his soil restoration research, would like to see that change. Talking to Civil Eats, he said that soil is as important as air and water, and there’s a Clean Air Act and a Clean Water Act, but where’s the act for soil? Soil is a living thing – shouldn’t it have rights too? Yes, Dr. Lal, I think it really should! This is an intriguing concept. What if we assigned soil rights, say, the right to not be destroyed or depleted, and if these rights were violated, there would be consequences? Why not pay landholders to protect the soil’s rights? Imagine this being part of every farm lease – the farm tenant is paid to uphold the rights of the soil. Corporations have the status of personhood under the law. This can’t be any crazier, right?