WASHINGTON, D. C. –The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved $19 billion in economic aid for the country’s farmers as part of the federal government’s overall coronavirus stimulus package.
While specifics of how the aid will be distributed are still being developed, farmers and farm organizations who lobbied for assistance in the wake of the pandemic’s disruption of supply chains and prices applauded the announcement.
The closing of restaurants and school and college cafeterias triggered a series of supply and demand crises that has farmers in some parts of the country dumping milk and plowing under vegetables.
David Fisher, president of the New York Farm Bureau and a dairy farmer, said the government’s direct aid to individual farmers as well as its stepped up purchases of meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables should go a long way toward stabilizing markets and prices.
“Like most small businesses, New York’s farm families are trying to cope the best they can while they continue to make sure food production doesn’t stop,’’ said Fisher is a statement. “The USDA announcement is an investment into the food security for this country.”
The $19 billion includes $16 billion in direct aid and $3 billion in increased food purchases that will be channeled to food banks and pantries.
The National Milk Producers Federation said the stimulus package appears to indicate at least $100 million a month of that $3 billion will be spent on dairy products – but warned it may not be enough since farmers were already teetering after five years of low prices for milk.
“Locally, I think this will have the biggest impact on our dairy farms,’’ said Paul Ruszkiewicz, president of the Orange County Vegetable Growers Association and an onion farmer. “They’ve really been hard hit. Produce isn’t an issue for us yet because we’re just starting to plant.”
Over the past month, 11 of Orange County’s remaining 33 dairy farms have been forced to dump their milk on their fields because of fluctuating demand.
The dairy industry, in particular, has been pummeled since the shuttering of restaurants and schools has left the supply chain clogged with commercial quantities – huge tubs of yogurt and huge blocks of cheese and butter - that can’t be readily repackaged for retail sale or donation to food banks.
“It’s great news,’’ said John Lupinski, president of the Orange County Farm Bureau and a vegetable farmer. “Food is the most important thing for people, after air, water, shelter, so this will definitely help farmers keep on producing it. But I’m concerned about whether this will be enough aid and whether there’s a mechanism in the package to revise the amount, to increase it.”