USDA will implement up to $ 4 billion in pandemic aid by mid-August

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Biofuel producers, dairy farmers and meat processors will receive the bulk of up to $ 4 billion in coronavirus aid programs that will be implemented over the next 60 days, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday. He also said the USDA will take “a fairly unique approach” that could include a revolving loan program to help small meat packers get into business or expand.

As of May 2020, nearly $ 25 billion has been paid to farmers and ranchers, mostly for key crops like corn and soybeans, cattle and pigs, to help cushion the agricultural impact of the pandemic. Iowa, California, Nebraska, and Minnesota received $ 3 out of $ 10 in payments. The Biden government said in late March that its new producer pandemic assistance program would allocate $ 6 billion to “a broader group of producers” previously overlooked or poorly served.

“Today we are quitting between 3 and 4 billion” The reason it took so long is that we are literally trying to help 41 different groups of people who were not adequately or fully helped in the early stages of COVID relief . ”

Biofuel producers would receive $ 700 million and dairy farmers combined $ 980 million, the Department of Agriculture said. About $ 700 million would go towards grants for personal protective equipment for specialty plant growers and food processors. Small family-owned logging and logging companies would receive up to $ 200 million in assistance. Up to $ 20 million in cost-sharing aid was available to organic producers, including those who made the three-year transition from conventional to organic farming.

Aid would also go to farmers raised under contract poultry, as well as livestock and poultry producers who killed animals in 2020 due to the pandemic. COVID-19 outbreaks at processing plants forced some of the largest U.S. plants to slow or temporarily shut down production, disrupting cattle markets and lowering sales prices. The USDA has not put a price tag on that part of the package or any additional dairy subsidy. Last December, a farm group said contract farmers could receive $ 1 billion.

“Some of the funding details in today’s announcement are yet to be finalized. The secretary is speaking to a potential area, “said a USDA spokeswoman.

Ethanol producers “are still struggling to recover from COVID-related market losses,” said Geoff Cooper, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “We are pleased to hear that the USDA intends to administer the aid for the next 60 days.” The USDA didn’t say how the aid would be divided.

“As more Americans get vaccinated, things are slowly returning to normal – but many businesses, including farmers and ranchers, are still feeling the lingering effects of the pandemic,” said Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union. The new round of pandemic funds, along with $ 4 billion announced by the USDA last week to strengthen the food system, “will help offset any remaining losses and lay the foundation for a safer, more competitive and resilient food system”.

Vilsack praised a law to create a “special investigator for competition issues” within the USDA agency to oversee livestock marketing as “a good proposal”. “I also think, frankly, that we need more processing capacity. We will come up with a very creative way to significantly expand the processing capacities in this country. ”

He replied “yes” when Montana Senator Jon Tester asked if the USDA had considered using pandemic relief funds to set up a revolving fund that could offer low-interest loans to start small meat processing businesses. Vilsack pointed to $ 60 million used last December in grants to small meat and poultry processors to expand their facilities, qualify for federal inspections and sell their products across state lines. The money should be available this month, he said.

Previously, Vilsack told North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, “As the summer goes on, you will see that we have a pretty unique approach” to expanding meat packaging capacity. “I think there are opportunities for us to use federal funds with state funds for economic development” as well as local, private and even charitable engagement. “I think you will see a lot of activity in this area over the next few months.”

Click here to watch a video of the hearing or read Vilsack’s written testimony.



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