Coronavirus aid slanted against local food, says small-farm group

The Trump administration’s $16 billion coronavirus aid package for agriculture “fails to deliver for many farmers who are the backbone of local, resilient, sustainable food systems,” said a small-farm advocacy group on Wednesday. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said small producers would be trampled by large operators in the first-come, first-served race for payments that can go as high as $750,000.

“There is no guarantee that funds will be available to farmers who take longer to apply for aid,” said the coalition. It said the payment limits are excessively high and that the USDA’s aid formula undervalues the premium products sold directly by farmers to restaurants, schools, and local customers.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who questioned the fairness of the trade war payments distributed by the USDA, said she will “be monitoring closely to ensure the relief reaches the farmers and ranchers hit the hardest.”

The Environmental Working Group said the largest U.S. farmers got more than $300,000 each in 2018 and 2019, while the smaller producers got an average of $7,113. Large coronavirus payments “will accelerate the decline of the family farm,” said EWG’s Scott Faber.

President Trump gave the go-ahead for the higher-than-usual payment limits in the coronavirus package, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue during a Red River Farm Network interview. The USDA set a limit of $250,000 per farmer for all commodities compared to the $125,000 cap on crop subsidies in the farm program. Livestock groups and produce growers argued that $125,000 would be inadequate.

“I talked to the president and indicated to him that [the $125,000 limit] would exclude many of the hardworking producers that really provide much of the food for America,” said Perdue. “He indicated to me to make some adjustments. So we did.” Even so, Perdue said, “Some farmers that have been very successful and have grown are going to still be very limited in getting a much lower percentage of their damages than those smaller farmers.”