USDA Sends Aid to Contract Growers

USDA Spotlights Pandemic Aid to Contract Producers, But Senators Push for WHIP-Plus Payments

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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USDA will be sending out about $270 million to farmers who raised poultry and livestock on contract last year but suffered financial losses. The aid program took roughly 11 months to move through the process before the department detailed the payments. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- USDA on Thursday announced the department will start sending out roughly $270 million in payments to livestock and poultry contract growers that had been left out of earlier aid programs provided to farmers hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As funds go out for one program, lawmakers want to know about other areas of promised aid.

Zach Ducheneaux, administrator for the Farm Service Agency, said the department listened to producers and stakeholders about the impacts to livestock and poultry operations, which required expanding eligibility and being more flexible about using income from 2018 or 2019 to calculate payments. There were also adjustments for producers who had expanded their operations or were new to farming when the pandemic hit.

"Filling these gaps and not letting underserved producers slip through the cracks is a common theme throughout our approach under our Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative," Ducheneaux said.

An omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress at the end of last year provided up to $1 billion in payments for contract growers who had revenue losses from Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 27, 2020. Among the producers eligible for the assistance were producers of broilers, pullets, layers, chicken eggs, turkeys, hogs and pigs, ducks, geese, pheasants and quail. Sign-up for the program ended Oct. 12.

Getting the details down for the contract growers effectively took 11 months from the passage of the bill, the transition of the Biden administration and movement forward to get the program off the ground and deliver payments under USDA's Pandemic Assistance for Producers. USDA has been dealing with a laundry list of program payments, including the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2, which has paid out $18.8 billion to farmers and livestock producers.

Just as one aid program moves out the door, senators want to know about the next one. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., the chair and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, issued a news release after speaking to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week to press USDA for details on disaster aid. Congress voted in September to provide farmers and ranchers about $10 billion for the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP-Plus) that will cover a myriad of disaster losses from 2020 and 2021. The funds include $750 million for livestock producers to offset losses from drought and wildfires.

"Congress provided these much-needed funds to assist producers impacted by adverse weather and losses so they have what they need to get through these challenges. Sen. Hoeven and I urged Secretary Vilsack to work quickly to get these funds out so producers can start planning for next year," Baldwin said. "I also pressed the secretary to work with OMB to get the rule out for the Dairy Margin Coverage program. Our dairy farmers continue to face major challenges, and they need certainty as they plan for next year's production season."

Hoeven added: "Our farmers and ranchers have been facing historic drought conditions, and they need help right now. That's why we worked to secure this assistance and have repeatedly stressed to USDA the importance of providing aid as quickly and as effectively as possible."

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Chris Clayton