INDIANAPOLIS – The US Department of Agriculture on recently announced two programs to help America’s farmers, including Indiana’s swine, cattle, and dairy producers, who have been hit by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative will also distribute food to families through the nation’s food banks.
The programs, totaling $19 billion, are funded through the $2 trillion coronavirus economic relief bill.
“The pandemic has affected every type of farmer, whether you’re dairy, whether you’ve got corn and soybeans that are being planted in southern Indiana as we speak, wheat that was planted last fall,” explained Bob White, director of national government relations for the Indiana Farm Bureau.
USDA will offer $16 billion in direct grants to farmers and ranchers to compensate for short-term drops in demand and oversupply driven by the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, milk.
“There’s only so much processing capacity,” said White. “The distribution system has been turned on its head because of the pure and simple fact you’ve got a lot of the food processing industry that would normally go to wholesale, now instead going to retail.”
While milk cases at grocery stores were cleared out by panic-driven shoppers, it does not make up for closed restaurants and schools. Seven percent of fluid milk volume is used by the nation’s schools, according to the American Dairy Association Indiana Inc.
“There’s no way to offset how much loss we’re seeing with school closings and food service even when people are buying an extra gallon of milk,” said Jenni Browning, chief executive officer of ADAI.
To make up for the glut, the Trump administration said it will purchase milk, in addition to meat and fresh produce totaling $3 billion. Those products will be distributed to food banks, community organizations and charities.
“This program will not only provide immediate relief for our farmers and ranchers, but it will also allow for the purchase and distribution of our agricultural abundance help our fellow Americans in need,” said Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
USDA said it will begin with the procurement of an estimated $100 million per month in fresh fruits and vegetables, $100 million per month in a variety of dairy products, and $100 million per month in meat products.
While farmers are very familiar with the importance of bookkeeping and records, White said what’s even more, is critical to maintain good records, especially for those who might be disposing of milk.
“At some point in time, Congress may say let’s give dairymen X amount of dollars per pounds of milk that they dumped,” said White. “If you don’t have the documents, you’re up the proverbial creek.”