The American Farm Bureau Federation has delivered the Trump administration a detailed list of requests to swiftly use its authority under the $2 trillion economic stimulus package to rescue “all sectors of agriculture” from the twin blows of the COVID-19 pandemic and a plunge in prices for many commodities.

The six-page letter sent to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue late Friday provides recommendations for spending $23.5 billion that was earmarked specifically for farm relief in the stimulus bill that was designed to halt an economic meltdown.

The proposals include providing direct payments to a wide range of producers as well as buying up fruit, vegetables, milk and other products for distribution to the needy.  But many of the producers for whom USDA is being asked to provide direct aid don’t participate in the major farm bill programs, which are targeted to row crops.

The bill provided $14 billion to replenish the Commodity Credit Corp. account USDA used to make Market Facilitation Program payments for 2018 and 2019 and set aside an additional $9.5 billion specifically for livestock producers, specialty crops and local food systems. 

“Even before the onset of the COVID crisis, many members were continuing to suffer economic damage from ongoing trade disputes, underscoring the need for additional MFP support. The COVID emergency has only exacerbated this situation,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall says in the letter. 

He goes on, “We urge you to set the highest priority on getting these critical dollars into farmers’ and ranchers’ hands absolutely as soon as possible. This must be the Department’s #1 Priority.”

The letter doesn’t provide specific amounts of money that should be allocated to each sector or program but instead offers recommendations for the way producers should be assisted. 

AFBF’s suggestions for aiding livestock and specialty crops (fruits, vegetables and nuts) include providing special direct payments to dairy farmers as well as cattle, hog and poultry farmers, including stocker and cow-calf operators.

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Catfish, crawfish and other aquaculture producers also should be eligible for money, because 60% of their sales goes to restaurants, the letter says. 

Additional AFBF recommendations for the dairy sector include creating a voucher program that would allow USDA to facilitate the distribution of donated milk through grocery stores since many food banks are not in a position to distribute highly perishable products. 

USDA also is urged to consider buying beef, pork, poultry and aquaculture products for distribution in nutrition assistance programs. 

The department also should make direct payments to fruit and vegetable growers who have had to dump products because of the closure of restaurants and retail outlets, the letter says.

Recommendations for other sectors include providing:

  • Direct payments to cotton producers, who prices have fallen precipitously since January as the pandemic has deepened.
  • “Emergency financial assistance” to ethanol producers. Ethanol prices have fallen sharply as gasoline demand has plunged. 
  • Grants or forgivable loans for workforce safety programs on farming operations. The money could be used to buy additional personal protective equipment masks, provide wellness checks and cover additional costs for lodging and sanitation.

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