American Farmland Trust has created a Farmer Relief Fund, which will award eligible farmers with cash grants of up to $1,000 each to help them weather the current storm of market disruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis. The initial focus will be on farms that sell at farmers markets or to restaurants, caterers, schools, stores, or makers who use farm products. That focus could change over time as the negative impacts of the crisis become more widespread within U.S. agriculture.
A new report estimates that local and regional food systems could lose up to $1.3 billion between just March and May of this year. While all farmers and ranchers will likely be seriously impacted by the market disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, some farmers are losing their primary markets because people can’t eat in restaurants or shop at farmers markets. Other farmers will be hard hit because they will not be able to maintain adequate farm labor — including the migrant labor now essential for many crops. Still other farmers will be devastated by expected disruptions in trade.
Yet at this time, those farmers and ranchers who market directly to consumers are being impacted most drastically. These farmers tend to be small businesses and are not covered by traditional farm safety net programs. This is a critical time for these farmers, the beginning of planting season, a time when little money is coming in and much is going out. Without some form of support, many will go out of business.
“AFT is focused on calling immediate attention to the struggle of the farmers who have been suddenly cut off from their main sources of revenue or seen them reduced. We want to help by providing funds to bridge the gap,” said John Piotti, AFT president and CEO. “But this crisis also elevates the need for AFT’s broader work, getting farming right before it is too late. We can’t let this crisis slow us down. If agriculture is to have a future, if we are to have a future, we must work hard to protect our agricultural resources, including the land, the soil and the people who steward both.”
The Farmer Relief Fund program details can be found at www.farmland.org/relief. The easy-to-complete application will be posted on the website within 24 hours.
Initially, eligible applicants include small and mid-size direct-market producers. These are defined as producers with annual gross revenue of between $10,000 and $1 million from sales at farmers markets and/or direct sales to restaurants, caterers, schools, stores, or makers who use farm products.
AFT envisions an initial application round extending until April 23, with grants beginning to be made by May 1.