Farmers to Congress: make sure coronavirus aid isn’t just for agribusiness

A coalition of organizations that represent rural and farming communities called on Congress to ensure that federal coronavirus aid earmarked for agriculture goes to independent farmers rather than multinational agribusiness companies.

The groups emphasized that smaller and independent growers are especially in need of aid after being disproportionately left out of the Market Facilitation Program, the Trump administration’s aid package for farmers affected by the trade war with China.

“If these payments are largely directed to the biggest players in agriculture, they could continue to prop up a factory farm system that has pushed family farms off the land, polluted rural waterways and air, and allowed a handful of multinational corporations to extract wealth from rural communities as they control more and more of the nation’s food production,” the coalition, Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment, wrote in a letter to members of Congress on Tuesday. The coalition’s members are Food & Water Watch, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Dakota Rural Action, Land Stewardship Project, and Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress at the end of March set aside $23.5 billion for agriculture, including $9.5 billion specifically for specialty crop and local producers. Rural advocates say Congress should “set up guardrails” to ensure the money makes it to the neediest producers.

Some of those guardrails could include not allowing aid money to be spent on new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and not distributing aid to multinational corporations. Future aid packages could additional aid farm operations by increasing loan funding, suspending debt payments, and enacting a moratorium on new farm and food sector mergers, the advocates wrote.

“Corporations do not need a bail-out right now,” said Stephanie Peterson, a South Dakota farmer and Dakota Rural Action board member in a press release Tuesday.Family-scale farmers and ranchers that produce for regional communities need assistance.”