Mar. 30, 2020
President Trump on Friday signed the $2 trillion stimulus package, including some $23 billion in extra aid for agriculture. Now it's the Agriculture Department's turn to figure out how to distribute those emergency dollars to farmers and ranchers dealing with falling commodity prices.
There are few strings attached to the farm provisions, even though Democrats were wary of setting up another "slush fund" for USDA to disperse funds across the industry as officials saw fit, Pro Ag's Catherine Boudreau writes this a.m.
That mistrust stemmed in part from how the administration designed its more than $23 billion trade bailout program, which critics said unfairly benefited Southern states, wealthy farmers and even foreign meatpackers.
"We'll be monitoring implementation to hold USDA accountable to distributing aid fairly and encourage USDA to follow the bipartisan payment limits set by the farm bill," said a spokesperson for Senate Ag ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who has criticized the department for alleged inequities in its trade relief programs.
Joseph Glauber, former USDA chief economist, said the stimulus funds, trade aid and traditional farm subsidies could total around $50 billion in fiscal 2020 alone. "Unprecedented to say the least," said Glauber, now a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Implementing the farm stimulus plan could prove even trickier than the trade bailout, which was based on the tariff damage to specific commodities and counties. "I am not sure how you would separate out price impacts from COVID-19 versus other market factors," Glauber said in an email. "My guess is that the distribution and amounts will look a lot like 2019."
Funds for farmers markets: The stimulus is the first disaster relief package to explicitly include local and regional food markets, according to Ferd Hoefner, senior strategic advisor at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
By the numbers: The group pointed to research estimating that those markets could lose $1.3 billion between March and May. The overwhelming majority of farms supplying those markets are small, and about a quarter are new farmers, per USDA data.