NFU joins Farm Bureau in plea for USDA to support farmers and rural communities affected by coronavirus

Following the recent passage of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the NFU is urging the USDA to “swiftly and efficiently implement assistance and distribute resources” to family farmers and ranchers and rural communities.
calendar icon 8 April 2020
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In a letter sent to US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, NFU President Rob Larew emphasised that the capacity of the rural health care system and the success of family farm agriculture depends on immediate and prudent action. “Perhaps there has never been a time when the Secretary of Agriculture was burdened with as much responsibility for the health and economic well-being of rural America as you carry today,” Larew wrote. “The actions of your department in the coming days, weeks, and months will be extremely important in securing the future of rural communities, the health of their residents, and the strength of their economies.”

First and foremost, NFU is concerned that rural communities have access to the medical services they need during this time. “Our rural health care system is underfunded and unprepared for the pandemic,” Larew said. On top of that, soaring unemployment rates have left millions of Americans, including farm and rancher families, without employer-provided health insurance. To address these issues, Larew called on USDA to both promptly and deliberately allocate funding earmarked for rural critical access hospitals and telehealth initiatives as well as “forcefully advocate on behalf of uninsured farm families so that they may be quickly enrolled in alternative health insurance policies or programmes.”

In addition to the health of their families and communities, many family farmers are worried about their financial well-being. Dairy farmers, cattle ranchers, and producers selling through local and regional markets have been among the most immediately impacted. Even though demand and prices for retail beef has increased, live cattle prices have plummeted, which some legislators attribute to price fixing. Dairy farmers have seen similar trends; though customers are buying more milk at grocery stores, it hasn’t made up for the demand lost to restaurant, school, hospital, and farmers market closures. As a result, milk prices have dropped nearly 30 percent, from $18 per hundredweight to less than $13. Additionally, local markets – such as farmers markets, farm to school, and food hubs – are projected to lose $1.02 billion in sales between March and December, which will devastate the farmers and ranchers who rely on them.

Larew encouraged the secretary to provide financial assistance as quickly as possible to keep the aforementioned farmers in business as they cope with immediate challenges. Furthermore, said assistance must “be targeted to farmers, not large agribusinesses,” and should include payment limits and income caps. He also recommended longer-term solutions, including an investigation of “allegations of price fixing and other abuses of market power by the meatpacking industry” as well as a mechanism to “bring milk supply in line with demand.”

“We are deeply concerned with the immense and increasing pressure that our rural health system and economy are facing,” Larew concluded. “You must act now to address the looming threat of mass closures and consolidation of family farms. The ripple effects of these changes would be catastrophic to our rural communities.”

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