More Ag Pandemic Relief Details

USDA Announces Aid for Biofuel, Livestock Producers, Among Others

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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USDA on Tuesday detailed new aid being released to help offset financial damages from the pandemic. Biofuel producers and multiple groups in livestock and poultry industries will receive the bulk of the aid. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Biofuel producers will split $700 million in aid funds for pandemic production losses, and livestock producers who have been left out of earlier aid also will see some assistance, as USDA announced more relief funds on Tuesday.

Also included in the aid will be funds for livestock producers who were forced to euthanize animals during the height of the pandemic's shutdown and slowdown of packing plant capacity in spring of 2020.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced additional aid to agricultural producers and businesses as part of the USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. The aid should start to roll out to producers and businesses over the next 60 days and will include support for biofuel producers, the timber industry, dairy farmers, livestock producers and contract poultry growers, as well as cost-share for organic conversion.

"USDA is honoring its commitment to get financial assistance to producers and critical agricultural businesses, especially those left out or underserved by previous COVID aid," said Secretary Vilsack. "These investments through USDA Pandemic Assistance will help our food, agriculture and forestry sectors get back on track and plan for the future. Since January, USDA has provided more than $11 billion of assistance directly to producers and food and agriculture business."

The funds for the newest relief package will come from $6 billion USDA announced in March would be set aside for multiple initiatives. The funding comes from aid relief bills passed last March as well as last December.

Among the major funding details released Tuesday, $700 million will go to biofuel producers. The ethanol industry clamored for aid last year as demand for liquid fuel crashed during government shutdowns. Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the group is pleased with Tuesday's announcement and that the relief will come over the next two months.

"This assistance comes at a critical time, as ethanol producers are still struggling to recover from COVID-related market losses and are now facing historically high feedstock costs. Many plants remain offline or are operating at reduced output rates. We look forward to receiving additional details on the program from USDA and we are eager to work with the department to ensure smooth and successful implementation," Cooper said.

Another $700 million will go to agricultural and food-processing businesses to help offset the costs of personal protection equipment (PPE) going to "specialty crop growers, meat packers and processors, seafood industry workers, among others."

The Supplemental Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) also has $580 million for small- and medium-sized dairy farms. A new Dairy Donation Program dealing with food insecurity and food waste will also receive $400 million. Small, family owned timber operations also would be eligible for aid with $200 million set aside.

USDA did not specify how much in funds would be set aside for livestock producers left out of previous rounds of pandemic assistance, or aid for contract poultry growers. Another area with unknown assistance will be aid to livestock and poultry producers forced to euthanize animals during the pandemic -- running from March 1, 2020, through Dec. 26, 2020.

Another $20 million will go toward organic cost-share assistance, including for producers who are transitioning to organic.

Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, noted the new round of aid will help fill in the gaps for farmers and livestock producers who missed out on previous rounds of assistance, especially beginning, socially disadvantaged and small- and medium-sized producers that need support most, he said.

"As more and more Americans get vaccinated, things are slowly returning to normal -- but many businesses, including farms and ranches, are still feeling the lingering financial impacts of the pandemic," Larew said. "Throughout this crisis, we've appreciated USDA's efforts to offer family farmers the help they've needed to stay solvent despite market and supply chain disruptions; the additional support announced today, along with last week's news about the Build Back Better plan, will help offset any remaining losses and begin to lay down the foundation for a more secure, competitive, and resilient food system."

USDA has already announced $5 billion in a mix of loans, grants and innovative financing to make investments to build a food system that is more resilient against shocks, delivers greater value to growers and workers, and offers consumers an affordable selection of healthy food produced and sourced locally and regionally by farmers and processors from diverse backgrounds, USDA stated.

"We have more work to do to build back a better food system, strengthen our supply chains, and make sure American agriculture gives our farming and ranching families every opportunity to earn a good living," said Secretary Vilsack. "As the economy continues to bounce back, USDA will ensure American agriculture is ready to seize the moment."

Since USDA rolled out the Pandemic Assistance initiative in March, the Department has announced approximately $6.8 billion in assistance (Part II and III) to producers and agriculture entities, the bulk of which, about $6.3 billion, is going to farmers and livestock producers through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.

Separately late last week, USDA also announced more than $1 billion in aid is being released to farmers and livestock producers who have been waiting for payments for Quality Loss Adjustment (QLA) and the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP-Plus) should see payments over the next several weeks with payments beginning today, June 15. (…)

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Chris Clayton