CORONAVIRUS

Farmers can apply next week for $16 billion in coronavirus aid

Trump administration says it will make direct payments

A farmer kicks up dust in the early evening light while planting crops April 29 in rural Buchanan County. Nearly perfect
A farmer kicks up dust in the early evening light while planting crops April 29 in rural Buchanan County. Nearly perfect planting weather is one of the few bright spots for farmers this spring. Federal officials said as of this week nearly all the corn and soybean crops are in, weeks ahead of where they stood in the soggy spring of 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Farmers facing big losses after the bottom dropped out of the food market in the COVID-19 pandemic this spring can start applying next week for a slice of $16 billion in aid, the Trump administration said Tuesday,

The funds, mostly from the CARES Act, will provide direct payments of up to $250,000 each in many cases to farmers, ranchers and producers who document losses through an application process that opens Tuesday at farmers.gov/cfap. Applications will be accepted until Aug. 28.

The USDA has posted video primer about the program and on how to apply on YouTube.

“These payments will help keep farmers afloat while market demand returns as our nation reopens and recovers,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “America’s farmers are resilient and will get through this challenge just like they always do with faith, hard work, and determination.”

In addition, the Trump administration said it would spend another $3 billion on produce, dairy and meat and deliver it to Americans in need.

U.S. farmers this year stand to lose more than $20 billion because of the pandemic, the University of Missouri Food and Agricultural Research Institute found. Agriculture interests said the newly announced aid will almost surely fall short.

Kevin Ross, president of the National Corn Growers Association, called it “a first step to getting farmers, and our customers, back on solid footing.”

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But the organization also said it looked forward to continued talks with Congress and the Trump administration about ways to address COVID-19 damage to the agriculture sector.

After restaurants around the nation closed, and Midwest meatpacking plants went idle amid virus outbreaks among workers, many producers dumped eggs and milk because of the lack of demand and euthanized hogs that otherwise would been bound for the slaughterhouses.

Most of the $16 billion in aid to help them was authorized by the CARES Act passed by Congress. The $9.5 billion from that compensates farmers for losses due to price declines between mid-January and mid-April. A second funding source of $6.5 billion uses the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act to compensate producers for losses due to ongoing market disruptions.

It was also under the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act that the Trump administration starting in 2018 authorized $28 billion worth of agriculture bail outs — including about $23 billion direct payments to farmers — because of its trade wars.

In an initial deal in the ongoing trade dispute, China agreed to buy $40 billion over two years in U.S. agriculture goods — a goal seem by many as lofty, far more than it had ever bought before.

But China has been on a buying spree these past few weeks, Forbes reported Tuesday.

China traditionally buys the most from American ag markets in the summer and fall. Now that it’s getting that time, the Chinese have been re-entering the U.S. grain and ethanol markets for the last two weeks, Forbes reported.

Still, the pace of the buying spree is not on track to meet the goal and, Forbes reported, appears to be motivated mostly by China’s fear that a COVID-19 resurgence will disrupt food markets even more.

Jim Monroe, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, said hog farmers appear likely to receive more aid under the new coronavirus relief plan than they did in 2018 and 2019 from the “trade aid” bailouts.

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Monroe said the industry estimates it will lose $5 billion because slaughter and processing plants have closed or slowed work in the pandemic.

“At the start of this week, more than 116,000 hogs daily could not be harvested for the food supply,” he said in a statement.

While it remains to be seen whether China will continue ramping up its purchases of U.S. ag goods and reopening it market to both crops and livestock, nearly perfect planting weather has been one of the few bright spots for crop farmers this season.

The USDA reported this week that farmers have planted 96 percent of the expected corn crop, putting them nearly a month ahead of last year. Farmers have planted 86 percent of the soybean crop, also nearly a month ahead of 2019.

Roll Call-CQ and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.