USDA announced Wednesday plans to spend at least $6 billion on new pandemic aid programs that reach a broader swath of producers than previous efforts, while putting “a greater emphasis on outreach to small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers (and) timber harvesters.”

The $6 billion package is part of $12.1 billion in funding USDA announced Wednesday, including congressionally mandated modifications to spending for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and new money for a variety of USDA programs.

“The pandemic affected all of agriculture, but many farmers did not benefit from previous rounds of pandemic-related assistance,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Our new USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative will help get financial assistance to a broader set of producers, including to socially disadvantaged communities, small and medium sized producers, and farmers and producers of less traditional crops.”

The $23.6 billion worth of payments in 2020 under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program were given primarily to larger farms in the biggest farm states, according to an Agri-Pulse analysis.

Also included in the $6 billion chunk of the overall effort is specific support for the dairy industry in a “Dairy Donation Program,” which drew praise from producers.

“U.S. dairy farmers and their cooperatives thank USDA for its support for the Dairy Donation Program, a critical means for connecting nutritious dairy products with the consumers who need them, as well as its examination of additional payments for milk producers that will better reflect the losses they have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said National Milk Producers Federation President and CEP Jim Mulhern.

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The Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative includes $500 million of funding for “expedited assistance through several existing programs this spring.” That includes new money for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Farmers Opportunities Training and Outreach program, the Local Agricultural Marketing Program, the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program and the Economic Adjustment Assistance for Textile Mills program.

Furthermore, USDA says it is expediting additions to CFAP assistance as well as re-opening the signup for CFAP 2.

Complying with the 2020 consolidated appropriations act, USDA said it was altering the formula for paying cattle producers. "USDA estimates additional payments of more than $1.1 billion will go out to more than 410,000 producers, according to the mandated formula," the department said.

Also, USDA will be paying an additional $20 per acre for alfalfa, corn, cotton, hemp, peanuts, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets, wheat and other crops. That will increase aid payments by $4.5 billion to more than 560,000 producers.

USDA announced Wednesday that, beginning April 5, it will resume allowing producers to sign up for CFAP 2 payments and extend the signup window for 60 days.

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