Farm Bureau tells USDA U.S. farmers need help immediately

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. 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, urging the Agriculture Department to make special direct payments to dairy and cotton producers, livestock farmers and cattle ranchers, among others.

FILE PHOTO: Unharvested corn, left as a barrier against blowing snow, stands in a field at a farm in Carroll, Iowa, U.S., January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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’ byproducts for feed.

The Farm Bureau asked that all sectors of U.S. agriculture benefit from the coronavirus stimulus bill passed in March, which added $14 billion to the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp’s spending authority and authorized an additional $9.5 billion to help livestock producers, dairy farmers, specialty 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 specialty 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 programs.

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 specialty 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 programs.

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.

Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall