Not everyone happy with $19 billion USDA aid package to farmers

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Farmers impacted by the COVID-19 national emergency are getting $19 billion in aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program late April 17.

The new relief program includes $16 billion in direct support to farmers and ranchers. The payments will be based on actual losses where prices and market supply chains were impacted.

It will assist producers with costs resulting from lost demand and short-term oversupply for the 2020 marketing year caused by COVID-19.

The other $3 billion will go to purchase fresh produce, dairy and meat from regional and local distributors. The USDA said it will begin with about $100 million in purchases each a month for produce, dairy and meat. Distributors and wholesalers will provide boxes of the USDA foods to food banks and other organizations serving those in need.

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program is using funding allocated through two federal relief bills passed by Congress — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act — and other USDA existing authorities.

The aid program was lauded by the American Farm Bureau Federation and some commodity groups as a good start to helping producers recover from the unexpected losses from the pandemic.

For others, it was not enough.

The National Pork Producers Council said it was thankful for the USDA commodity purchases, but feared the aid would fall short of what was needed.

Howard Roth, National Pork Producers Council president, said in a statement that while direct payments would offset some losses for hog farmers, it would not be enough to sustain the “varied market participants, including those who own hogs, as well as thousands of contract growers, who care for pigs.”

The fruit and vegetable industry said in a joint statement that the program is a good first step, but that more help is needed to help those growers hit hardest by the loss of markets.

“We appreciate the steps taken today, but also must reinforce to Congress that the funds available to agriculture are simply inadequate to keep our industry strong into the future,” said Tom Stenzel, president of United Fresh Produce Association.

Details about how the federal aid will be distributed are forthcoming.

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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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