The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on farmers’ and ranchers’ incomes, and it will likely continue for months.
Farm groups say aid for rural America is critical, and they are commending the U.S. Senate for agreeing on a $2 trillion response, relief and stimulus package and urging its passage.
Farm groups say it includes $14 billion in funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation and $9.5 billion in relief for livestock, specialty crops and local food systems.
Several farm groups put out statements on Wednesday re-iterating the urgent need for assistance.
American Farm Bureau Federation said the aid package will help ensure farmers and ranchers are able to continue feeding America in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Farmers and ranchers face enormous volatility as markets and supply chains rapidly react to changes, but I’ll say again that farmers and ranchers will not let Americans down,” Zippy Duvall, AFBF president, said. “All members of Congress must understand that farmers have almost no control over the prices of goods we produce, so fulfilling our commitment to America requires a team effort."
Farm Bureau along with 48 other agricultural groups sent a letter to Congress earlier this week seeking an expansion of USDA’s borrowing authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation.
“Millions of producers will need help with cash flow given the rapid and unanticipated decline in commodity prices, the likely closure of ethanol processing plants, the effective elimination of direct-to-consumer sales and decline in full-service restaurant and school meal demand,” the groups said in the letter.
National Farmers Union said the stimulus bill addresses its most urgent concerns — including funding for rural hospitals, which have historically been overlooked and underfunded.
“This is particularly concerning as rural citizens are, on average, older and more likely to have other health conditions, making them more vulnerable to the virus,” Rob Larew, NFU president, said.
The long-term financial stability of farmers and ranchers is also a top concern.
“Many were already strained after a multi-year farm economy crisis and a global trade war. Now markets are evaporating as restaurants and schools shutter and exports stall. Farm labor is in short supply with borders closed and visa processing at a standstill, and falling commodity prices are quickly eroding farm income,” he said.
If the disruptions continue, many operations won’t be able to last more than a few months, he said.
The National Council of Farmers Cooperatives said the bill will help provide some needed relief to families and businesses.
“Especially important are provisions to help America’s farmers, ranchers and their co-ops weather this uncertainty. As the pandemic runs its course, we will continue to monitor whether additional measures may be needed to mitigate the impacts,” Chuck Connor, NCFC president and CEO, said.
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said keeping operations profitable will be an even greater challenge for farmers with fewer resources, including beginning farmers, small and mid-sized farmers and disadvantaged farmers.
“Congress must ensure that the most impacted farmers get direct payments to make up for lost income, prioritize additional administrative flexibility and direct investments in the field … and ensure that every farmer has access to credit and resources they need,” Eric Deeble, NSAC director of policy, said.