OPINION U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota says there are multiple provisions to benefit dairy farmers in the new COVID-19-relief compromise package. “This compromise package contains strong support for dairies nationwide,” he said. “Support for product donations, improvements to Dairy Margin Coverage for small and medium farms, additional help for larger farmers that have previously been payment-limited, authority to make recourse loans on dairy products, funding for animal health and investments in meat-processing are all programs that will help dairy farmers in the near term and in the long run. While it’s not perfect, and there are areas within the package that could be improved, it’s a good down payment on the help that dairy producers in Minnesota and across the country need. I’m encouraged that the package got such overwhelming bipartisan support.”
According to Peterson:
- The bill provides necessary cash-flow assistance to small- and mid-sized dairies that have grown during the past seven years, by establishing supplemental margin coverage based on the difference between 2019 actual production and Dairy Margin Coverage production history.
- The bill provides $400 million to pay for milk to be processed into dairy products and donated to non-profit entities like food banks and other feeding programs. Under the framework of the program, the dairy processor and recipient non-profit develop a plan for donation and distribution, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture reimburses the processor for the associated cost of milk. The bill allows the USDA to adjust the existing Milk Donation Program payments to match the level of payment provided by the new program.
- The bill grants the Secretary flexibility to make recourse loans available to processors, packagers and merchandisers of dairy products; it establishes that dairy animals not in production are also eligible for assistance under the bill’s provisions for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program cattle payments.
- The bill invests in animal health, directing the Secretary to invest a minimum of $20 million in animal-health and disease-prevention initiatives, as well as $60 million to make facility-upgrade and planning grants to existing meat and poultry processors to help them move to Federal inspection and be able to sell their products across state lines.
Abby Youngblood, executive director of the National Organic Coalition, says the package includes several significant wins for organic – including a $2 million boost in annual funding for the National Organic Program, which is charged with ensuring that the USDA organic standards are enforced in a uniform way around the globe and investigating complaints of fraud. Both the $1.4 trillion “omnibus” appropriations bill and the accompanying $900 billion COVID-19-relief package include priorities endorsed and requested by the National Organic Coalition in its fiscal-year-2021 appropriations priorities and pandemic-relief priorities. But the legislation fails to fix the Organic Certification Cost Share funding shortfall after USDA wrongly slashed the program in August 2020.
“The National Organic Coalition would like to thank Congressional leaders for allocating resources to strengthen organic enforcement, crack down on fraud, boost organic research and expand organic-data collection,” she said. “We are deeply discouraged, however, that funding to restore the organic-certification cost-share program is absent from the bill. Organic operations are working extraordinarily hard to stay afloat and provide their communities with nutritious food during the pandemic – despite disrupted markets, labor challenges and added costs to ensure the safety of farm workers and community members. We will continue to call on the USDA and Congress to fully restore that essential program.”
According to Youngblood:
The fiscal-year-2021 Omnibus Appropriations bill includes several wins for organic farms and food systems.
- The bill includes $18 million in funding for the USDA National Organic Program, a $2 million increase in funding as compared to the fiscal-year-2020 level.
- The bill reiterates the need to level the playing field for organic-dairy producers by resolving inconsistencies related to the transition of livestock to organic dairy and dry-matter intake during the grazing season. The bill directs the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service to “continue to conduct critical risk-based oversight, particularly for large complex dairy operations.”
- The bill provides $500,000 for the Organic Data Initiative and requires that certifiers report acreage data by organic crop and location in order to calculate organic acreage and yields to better detect and prevent fraud in the organic marketplace.
- The bill provides $1 million increase for the Organic Transition Program – a boost to $7 million in funding annually – and a $3 million increase in the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education or SARE program – a boost to $40 million in funding annually.
- The bill includes language to encourage the USDA to increase the number of organic-research projects funded through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, USDA’s flagship agricultural-research program, and through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative.
- The Omnibus bill includes $5 million for the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach program to train new farmers to start successful businesses, and to provide grants to nonprofits and institutions working with farmers of color and military veterans.
- The bill calls on the USDA to expand funding for the development of plant varieties that are adapted to changing climates and other regional-specific conditions.
- The bill directs the USDA to submit a report to Congress on how it will resolve the accounting problems at USDA’s Farm Service Agency that led to a significant funding shortfall and USDA’s decision to slash the organic-certification cost-share funding program.
The $900 billion COVID-19 relief package includes several more wins.
- $11 billion in extra assistance for farmers impacted by the pandemic, including additional funding for some crops under the existing Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, and funding for loans and grants to businesses, producers and farmers markets; the bill directs the USDA to take into account price-differentiation factors for each commodity when making payments
- $285 billion in funding for forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program for farmers and small businesses impacted by the pandemic; a provision is also included to clarify that expenses paid using Paycheck Protection Program loan funds are deductible
- $13 billion in additional funding for USDA nutrition programs, including a provision to increase the monthly SNAP benefit level by 15 percent and funds for expanding the SNAP online-purchasing program, including for farmers markets and direct-market farmers
- $100 million to support local farmers, farmers markets and value-added production for farmers and outlets who are impacted by COVID-19 market disruptions through the Local Agriculture Market Program
- $75 million to the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach program to support financial advice and technical assistance for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers