Perdue Dairy Expo

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue addresses questions from news reporters following an October town hall meeting at the World Dairy Expo in Madison.

The USDA jumped into the COVID-19 rescue effort with an announcement late April 17 of a $19 billion aid package for farmers that would include direct payments and commodity purchases.

Just a day after the money ran out for a small business loan program included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, USDA announced its plans to help farmers, including $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and another $3 billion in purchases of dairy products, meat and produce. That $16 billion direct payment will draw from $9.5 billion that was allocated by the CARES Act and another $6.5 billion from the Commodity Credit Corporation (which also got money from the CARES Act).

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue held a Friday evening press conference to announce details. Perdue told reporters he hopes checks will be in the mail to farmers by the end of May.

“We’re going to do it as quickly as possible,” said Perdue. “I’m hopeful we can get the checks out by the end of May.”

The payments may look a little bit like the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments made to farmers to help them deal with the losses incurred by the trade war with China, but Perdue said officials are still working out the details.

No money was included to help the nation’s biofuel industry and the Renewable Fuels Association called that “a missed opportunity” by the administration.

“Frankly at this point there’s just not enough money to go around,” Perdue said.

Instead, the direct payments will go toward producers of commodities that are hit hardest by the COVID-19 situation, he said.

The $3 billion in food purchases would begin with a procurement of $300 million a month, according to the USDA, with $100 million each for meat, dairy and fresh produce. Distributors would then provide some type of pre-approved box of those products to food banks and other organizations serving those in need.

There would also be money in that $3 billion to go directly to food banks for administrative costs and food purchases.

National Farmers Union President Rob Larew was among many farm organization leaders to express appreciation for the effort to help farmers.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.