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AG GROUPS, OTHERS CHALLENGE USDA'S METHODOLOGY IN CALCULATING TRADE AID PAYMENTS
POLITICO reports:

The National Corn Growers Association and National Association of Wheat Growers are requesting that USDA share more information about the methodology officials used to determine the amount of money per bushel each crop will get under the trade assistance package. The groups are disappointed with the payment rates for corn and wheat - set at a penny per bushel and seven cents per bushel, respectively - that the department announced last week.

NAWG officials estimate losses of 75 cents a bushel due to the retaliatory tariffs by China and Mexico. They are planning to meet with USDA next week during their annual fly-in, said Caitlin Eannello, the group's spokeswoman. NCGA has reported losses of 44 cents per bushel for corn growers. Spokeswoman Liz Friedlander said the group has asked USDA for more information about its methodology.

The USDA Office of the Chief Economist did not return a request for comment on whether it plans to publicly disclose how officials arrived at the payment rates for each commodity that will receive direct assistance, including soybeans, sorghum, cotton, corn, wheat, pork and dairy. Payments will total $4.7 billion. At a later date, the department will determine if more aid is necessary.

FOIA filed: The Environmental Working Group last week announced it had filed a FOIA request seeking documents that shed light on how the multi-billion dollar trade assistance program was developed. It wants relevant e-mails, text messages, meeting logs and informational material.

Regional politics: Scott Irwin, an agricultural economist at University of Illinois, suggested in a Twitter thread before Labor Day weekend that USDA may have factored in regional politics, which often divide the farm sector, when determining payment rates - the idea being to spread money around geographically so as not to concentrate too much in a certain place. Most soybean growers in the Midwest, who are receiving the bulk of the direct assistance, also grow corn.

Irwin cited USDA crop price forecasts between May and August, which showed that corn prices fell by 20 cents a bushel, while cotton increased by 10 cents a pound. Yet, corn will receive direct payments at a rate of a penny a bushel - or $96 million - while cotton will get four cents a pound - or $277 million.

USDA has said politics did not factor into the timing of the trade assistance package, nor in the formulation of payment rates. Department economists have been tracking the market for months to identify fluctuations that were tied to the retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and other trading partners, and were not caused by other factors like weather and supply and demand.


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