Coronavirus: Lawmakers Decry Ag Aid Cap – DTN

U.S. Capitol building - Washington D.C. Photo: Licensed image.

Bipartisan coalitions of senators and House members wrote to President Donald Trump on Thursday that the Agriculture Department’s payment limits on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will limit its effectiveness for the cattle, pork and specialty crop sectors.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan. organized the Senate letter, which was signed by 28 senators.

“Agricultural economists have estimated over $13 billion in harm to the cattle industry and $5 billion to the pork industry due to the pandemic, with many billions more in injury to dairies, fruit, nut, and vegetable producers, and the horticulture and floriculture industry,” the senators wrote.

“However, we are concerned about the $125,000 per commodity and $250,000 per individual or entity payment limits as it relates to assistance for the livestock, dairy and specialty crop sectors. This limitation would severely restrict the program’s effectiveness for many family-owned farms and ranches across the nation. We strongly urge you to eliminate payment limits for livestock, dairy and specialty crop producers before the final CFAP program details are announced.”

The letter was signed by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., but not by ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who told reporters Thursday that she wanted “to stress every part of the farm economy being supported.”

Stabenow noted that the Agriculture Department had flexibility on payment limits and did not impose them on trade aid payments. She said she would want to “talk” to USDA about the issue.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said he had a hard time stretching the $19 billion to benefit all of agriculture that was affected.

Feinstein said in a news release that the letter is supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, AmericanHort, American Sugar Alliance, Farm Credit Council, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Potato Council, United Fresh Produce Association, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, and Western Growers Association.

Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., organized a bipartisan letter to Trump signed by 126 House members making the same point.

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Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers, which represents fruit and vegetable and tree nut growers in California and other Western states, thanked Panetta and the other members, saying, “We appreciate the efforts of our congressional champions, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jimmy Panetta, to seek remedy for our concerns with the payment limitations outlined in USDA’s direct payment plan.”

“Simply put, $125,000 per commodity or $250,000 per farm is wholly inadequate to mitigate the massive economic damage that has been incurred by countless producers of fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, a total that is estimated at $5 billion and counting.”

“Farmers in the fresh produce industry make major up-front investments in their crops. With the virtual collapse of the food service sector, many fresh produce farmers have been forced to abandon their fields to cut their losses, which has tallied into the millions even for smaller and medium-sized farming operations.

“While farmers have redirected a significant portion of their excess supply to food banks, the volume of production has outstripped the capacity of these non-profit organizations to handle the products. Furthermore, the added costs of harvesting and transporting the food makes additional donations economically unfeasible.”

Separately, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association wrote Perdue, stating, “The low payment cap of $125,000 per commodity will prevent many operations, large and small, from receiving enough assistance to soften this blow.”

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., introduced a bill to provide $50 billion more to USDA to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing support for agricultural producers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, provided that the secretary shall not apply any limitation on payments made to producers using funding provided under this section, except to ensure that total payments made to producers do not exceed total damages related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as determined by the secretary.”

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@nationaljournal.com

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport

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