Farmers and ranchers are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to quickly distribute the $9.5 billion Congress allocated to help them during the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's a big industry with lots of different markets serving a lot of different people. And it's very rare for every market to be in trouble at once," said Blake Hurst, President of the Missouri Farm Bureau.
The funding is a small part of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill CARES Act passed by Congress in late March. The $9.5 billion was given directly to USDA to specifically help livestock producers, specialty crop producers and local food systems like farmers markets.
But the USDA has been slow to roll out a plan to distribute the funds as the pandemic has quickly disrupted entire supply chains all around the country, especially in the dairy and livestock industries.
"So you’ve got cattle farmers concerned and rightly so about market concentration," Hurst said. "You got dairy farmers dumping, you know, hundreds of millions of gallons of milk, whatever the figure is. You've got the nursery industry, the fresh produce industries asked for five billion dollars."
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue tweeted that the USDA is developing “a program that will include direct payments to farmers & ranchers hurt by COVID-19 & other procurement methods to help solidify the supply chain from producers to consumers.”
But a USDA spokesperson would not give Newsy any details about when the distribution plans would be announced. Instead they replied: “Details on the program will be forthcoming shortly.”
"This has all been evolving very, very quickly," said Dr. Scott Brown, Agricultural Economist at the University of Missouri. "It seems to me we're kind of right in the middle of the very worst of the situation we're going to face and it's getting that money out there as soon as possible is certainly important."
Meanwhile, dairy farmers from Missouri to California continue to dump milk they can’t process, waiting for the aid.
Western United Dairies CEO Anja Raudabaugh told Newsy: "Dairy farmers are anxious to know what D.C.'s plan will be. We're holding up planting decisions and other planning decisions with the banks while we wait for this information. The D.C. assistance won't replace the markets we've lost, but it's a piece of the puzzle of certainty for farmers."
"As U.S.D.A. thinks about how to best use this money, the targets keep changing for them every day in terms of how to be most helpful with this targeted money," said Dr. Brown. "And so they have some very difficult decisions to make in how to spend a limited amount of money to help the industry."
Multiple sources told Reuters the USDA plans to add $6 billion to the $9.5 billion to help food producers, and an announcement may come as early as this week.