Local and regional agriculture and food markets stand to lose up to $688.7 million in sales through May because of the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to analysts familiar with the sector. 

A reduction in sales of that magnitude would lead to a payroll decline of $103.3 million, and a total loss to the economy of up to $1.32 billion, according to a paper prepared by the analysts and circulated on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are negotiating a $1 trillion stimulus package to offset the outbreak’s impact.

The paper recommends that Congress explicitly make local food and farm businesses eligible for assistance targeted to small businesses and require “dollars flowing to communities to support local farm and food businesses.” 

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Congress or USDA should waive limitations on the ability of feeding programs to procure locally and regionally produced foods, and farmers should be encouraged to integrate online ordering and sales into their businesses, the paper says. 

The experts who prepared the estimates and policy proposals included Debra Tropp, a consultant and former deputy director of the local food research and development division in USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service; Sarah Low, a University of Missouri economist formerly with USDA’s Economic Research Service; and Colorado State University economists Dawn Thilmany and Rebecca Jablonski. 

“Local distancing measures such as the closure of universities, schools, restaurants, and local food markets (e.g., farmers markets, farm stands) will result in significant shifts in where food is sold or acquired, and subsequently, markets for farms and ranches,” the paper says. 

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