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Letter to USDA urges authority to help US farmers impacted by COVID-19

US farmers need immediate financial help as the coronavirus continues to roil the nation's food supply chain, the American Farm Bureau Federation said on Friday (3 April), urging the Agriculture Department to make special direct payments to dairy and cotton producers, livestock farmers and cattle ranchers, among others.

6 April 2020, at 10:18am

In a letter sent to the USDA on Friday, the trade group also asked for emergency funding for ethanol plants, as well as the corn growers who can no longer sell their crops to them and the livestock producers who no longer have access to the facilities' by-products for feed.

The Farm Bureau asked that all sectors of US agriculture benefit from the coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus bill passed in March, which added $14 billion to the USDA's Commodity Credit Corp's spending authority and authorised an additional $9.5 billion to help livestock producers, dairy farmers, speciality crop farmers and local agricultural groups.

The six-page letter outlining the group's views on how it hoped USDA would dole out the stimulus funds noted "certain sectors of agriculture are particularly hard-hit", including dairy farmers and speciality crop producers, such as vegetable and fruit farms.

The Farm Bureau also asked that USDA "immediately make purchases of dairy products including but not limited to fluid milk, butter, cheeses and dry milk powders," to help offset the loss of food service and school meal programmes.

Mass closures of restaurants and schools due to social distancing efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus have forced a shift from wholesale food-service markets to retail grocery stores, creating logistical and packaging nightmares for plants processing milk, butter and cheese.

As a result, a growing number of dairy farmers are being told by their cooperatives to dump their milk.

They're not alone, according to the letter, which said that "direct payments are needed for all speciality crop growers that are dumping products and experiencing income losses due to restaurant and retail closures."

The trade group also asked that USDA consider purchasing beef, pork, poultry and aquaculture products for distribution in food and nutrition programmes.

The Commodity Credit Corporation, established during the Great Depression nearly a century ago, has been tapped by the Trump administration for nearly $30 billion in recent years to compensate farmers and assist the sector due to a trade conflict between the United States and China.