Sunday evening, the expected advancement of a congressional stimulus package to help Americans who are weathering massive changes as part of COVID-19 restrictions hit a partisan roadblock, pushing hope for a bill deeper into the week. Many businesses and supply chains are shuttered, and while agriculture is considered an essential industry to our nation, there is no doubt that the closure of restaurants and farmers markets have had an impact, even while grocery stores are selling out of many farm-based goods. Tim Fink, policy director for American Farmland Trust, has released a statement urging lawmakers not to forget about large swaths of the agricultural community when crafting stimulus measures.
Thank you to organizations such as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, and Congress’ local agriculture champions for their efficient work and proposed policy solutions. American Farmland Trust echoes the urgent call to include farmers and ranchers engaged in direct sales through farmers markets or to schools and restaurants in the stimulus package.
These producers, who accounted for $2.8 billion in total sales in 2017, are uniquely hurt by “social distancing” policies that are preventing them from reaching their usual markets. This study shared with Congress estimates that local and regional food systems could lose up to $1.3 billion between March and May of this year. Eighty-five percent of these producers are classified as small farms, and most are not covered by the traditional farm safety net, nor have they benefitted from the recent market facilitation payments.
Congress can help these farmers and ranchers impacted by COVID-19 by:
- Ensuring that those who sell their products directly to schools, through farmers markets, or other local and regional markets are also included in any relief plan.
- Considering suspension of Farm Service Agency loan payments and providing zero interest loans to tide these producers until conditions improve.
- Extending relevant USDA program deadlines to offer additional flexibilities to producers.
These steps likely represent just the beginning of what will be needed as we move ahead. During this difficult time, AFT is committed to ensuring agricultural viability, and will be announcing additional ways to support this important community in the coming days.