USDA officials are scrambling to put together a presentation on an assistance program to help mitigate the tens of billions of dollars in damage that’s expected to be done to farmers and ranchers as a result of the Trump administration’s multifront trade war with China, Mexico, Canada, the European Union and elsewhere.

Key officials at USDA headquarters were behind closed doors and even the office of communication had closed down its office suite as the department prepared to unveil the “mitigation” program.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue told him the department would be providing $12 billion in aid in some form to farmers and that the funds would be distributed in September. The department scheduled a briefing at 1:30 p.m. Washington time.

Farm groups and farm state lawmakers have been clear in that they’d prefer to see an end to the trade hostilities that have resulted in steep tariffs on U.S. ag exports, but they also want to know what USDA is planning.

Anticipating the release of USDA plan today, Farmers for Free Trade Executive Director Brian Kuehl said the best result would be to rescind U.S. tariffs on China and elsewhere to end the disputes that have been disrupting trade.

"Farmers across America depend on open markets and stable contracts for their livelihood,” Kuehl said.  “The best relief for the president’s trade war would be ending the trade war. Farmers need contracts, not compensation, so they can create stability and plan for the future. This proposed action would only be a short-term attempt at masking the long-term damage caused by tariffs."

Maria Zieba, director of international affairs for the National Pork Producers Council, said today that the U.S. has exported virtually no pork to China in the past six weeks because of its retaliatory tariffs.

Phil Brasher and Steve Davies contributed to this story.

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