By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Rikky Rai, co-author of a U of I study on a pumpkin pathogen genome, waters pumpkin plants at a University of Illinois greenhouse. (Photo by Montgomery Flack)

This week’s peek between the rows looks at what farmers can expect in the way of COVID-19 relief program benefits, along with news of events taking place during Stand Up 4 Grain Safety Week. For info on these and other items of interest to farmers and rural dwellers, please read on …


Farms, ag included in COVID-19 relief programs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A myriad of benefits for farmers and agriculture are included in Congress’ American Rescue Plan Act and USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers program. ARPA, recently signed into law by President Joe Biden, includes $10.4 billion for agriculture-related assistance associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to providing funding for another round of stimulus checks to most individuals, the bill allows $4 billion for direct payments of up to 120 percent of the outstanding debt of socially disadvantaged farmers.

ARPA also calls for $3.6 billion to be used for purchasing and distributing agricultural commodities to those in need, along with funding pandemic mitigation efforts for agricultural and supply chain workers. Surveillance efforts for SARS-CoV-2 will receive $300 million, while federal inspections of meat, poultry and egg processing facilities will receive a $100 million boost.

In addition, $500 million will be devoted to rural health efforts, and $800 million will be used to bolster the Food for Peace program under ARPA.

The USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers program will allot at least $6 billion for new programs to bring financial assistance to farmers who suffered from market disruptions associated with the pandemic. The program will reach a broader set of producers than previous COVID-19 relief programs with an emphasis on small and socially disadvantaged farmers, specialty crop and organic producers and timber harvesters. It will also provide support for the food supply chain and producers of renewable fuel. (Illinois Farm Bureau news)


Pumpkin pathogen genome sequenced

URBANA — Illinois pumpkin growers may soon benefit from new research conducted on the dreaded bacterial spot disease at the University of Illinois. This is thanks to scientists and undergrad students who have assembled the first complete genome of the pathogen that causes the disease, which can reduce marketable yields by as much as 90 percent.

“Assembling a complete circular genome means we now have the resources to better understand what’s happening in the field. We can use this information to look at how the pathogen is spreading, whether there are differences in host specificity among subpopulations or strains, or how likely it is to develop resistance to chemical controls,” said Sarah Hind, assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois and senior author of a study associated with the research.

The research could lead to ways to prevent bacterial spot disease from penetrating pumpkin fruits, according to Hind. ”This would really save the farmers. They don’t care as much when it gets on the leaves, but if it infects the fruit, they’re in trouble,” she said.

An associated article, “Genome sequencing and functional characterization of Xanthomonas cucurbitae, the causal agent of bacterial spot disease of cucurbits,” was published in Phytopathology. Authors include Rikky Rai, Julius Pasion, Tanvi Majumdar, Cory Green, and Hind. The research was supported with USDA Hatch funds, as well as an ACES Undergraduate Research Scholarship.


Stand Up 4 Grain Safety Week

URBANA — This is Stand Up 4 Grain Safety Week, an annual event that promotes awareness, education and training on grain bin safety. As an online event in 2021, organizers at the University of Illinois have prepared webinars dealing with grain safety, including safety training, the impact of grain quality on safety and emergency action plans. The topics are relevant for farmers, grain handlers and ag business professionals. Daily sessions, which run 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this week, will be archived for future viewing.

The online event is hosted by the Grain Handling Safety Coalition, which is  a team of industry organizations, agencies and individuals dedicated to preventing accidents and injury in grain handling. Registration, required to participate in the webinars, is available at www.eventbrite.com/e/2021-stand-up-4-grain-safety-week-tickets-138498581987.


IPPA launches food pantry grant program

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Pork Producers Association has announced a new funding opportunity for food pantries in 2021. IPPA’s Food Pantry Co-op was created to provide pork to food pantries, shelters, churches or groups in Illinois who strive to fight food insecurity in their local communities, according to a March 25 news release.

“Giving back to our local communities continues to be a top priority for Illinois pig farmers,” shares Alan Kollmann, IPPA President. “Our hope for this funding is to get quality protein further into small communities in our state, through existing organizations.”

IPPA’s Food Pantry Co-op will reimburse qualifying food pantries up to $250 for the purchase of pork products. Pork items eligible for reimbursement include shelf-stable pork products, frozen or fresh products. Funding is available on a first come, first served basis. The application can be found at ilpork.com.

As part of the Pork Power: Partnering to Fight Hunger in Illinois campaign the IPPA, along with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and Illinois Soybean Association Checkoff Program, donated 101,326 pounds of pork to food banks throughout the state in 2020. The IPPA’s Food Pantry Co-op program is made possible by income from annual t-shirt sales, monetary donations from individuals, Illinois Corn Growers and the Illinois Soybean Association, along with donated pigs from Illinois producers.


Illinois Farm Fact:

Since its inception in 2008, the Pork Power program has generated more than 922,000 pounds of pork — more than 3 million servings — for families throughout Illinois. (IPPA)