Dear Sonny, dear Sonny, we need your help

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Perdue speaking
Photo credit: USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Everyone wants a piece of Sonny Perdue’s $9.5 billion pie.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf joined the cacophony of state officials, commodity groups and other organizations writing to the U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary with suggestions for how he should allot the federal funds given to him through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act. 

“I ask that USDA take swift and decisive action to publicize and implement a plan to immediately and equitably stabilize the agriculture industry, and to support agriculture producers, food processors, workers and local food systems, regardless of size of operation,” Wolf wrote in the letter, sent April 15.

The governor asked that the plan include direct payments to farmers and food processors, maintain wage rates for H2A workers and provide funding and resources for mental health services for agricultural and restaurant sector workers.

Enough to go around?

The $2 trillion CARES Act allotted about $48.4 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The biggest portion is going to direct assistance programs. That includes $9.5 billion to Perdue to distribute as he sees fit to help livestock producers, specialty crops and local agriculture systems.

The Commodity Credit Corporation also received a $14 billion reimbursement through the CARES Act, but that funding won’t come through until July. Until then, Perdue said the CCC has $6 billion in available funding, reported FERN News.

Perdue told reporters April 8 that the USDA’s goal was to distribute the money “sooner rather than later” in a package that is inclusive, fair and balanced.

The secretary told Fox Business April 15 that he wants to make direct payments to farmers.

“We want to purchase as much of this milk or other protein products, hams and pork products, and move them to where they can be utilized in our food banks and possibly even international humanitarian aid,” Perdue told Fox Business’s Stuart Varney.

What everyone wants

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and his New York counterpart wrote to Perdue April 10 urging him to use federal relief money to help the struggling dairy industry.

Redding and Richard Ball, commissioner of the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, asked specifically that the USDA provide direct reimbursement of $3 per hundredweight of milk for the next three months and reopen the enrollment period for the Dairy Margin Coverage, among other things.

The state agricultural leaders also asked the USDA to make “substantial dairy purchases” through the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Commodity Credit Corporations and distribute those products to people in need.

Dairy, pork, beef cattle and produce groups all submitted proposals to the USDA for how to spend the money. 

The National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association sent a joint proposal that included paying producers to reduce production, compensating producers and handlers for dumped milk and providing forgivable loans to processors. The dairy groups also asked for the USDA to reopen the Dairy Margin Coverage program.

The National Pork Producers Council asked for $1 billion in pork purchases by the USDA to clear out a backed-up meat supply and direct payments to farmers. Hog farmers were hit especially hard by the loss of the food services market and packing plants closures.

The United Fresh Produce Association and more than 80 state and national produce groups asked for a $5 billion Produce Market Stabilization Program to compensate growers for losses and increase fruits and vegetables distributed in food assistance programs.

The American Farm Bureau Federation asked for direct payments to farmers and for the USDA to make dairy product purchases.

The farm bureau also asked the USDA to consider buying beef, pork, poultry and aquaculture products for distribution in food and nutrition programs, allow school lunch programs to purchase whole milk and to create a voucher program to facilitate the distribution of donated milk through grocery stores.

The Ohio Farm Bureau said in a statement that it worked with the national group in the outreach effort to Perdue.

“Our outreach to USDA shows just how important every sector of food production is to Ohio and our country as a whole,” said Jack Irvin, senior director of state and national policy with Ohio Farm Bureau, in a statement.

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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