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Deep concern that resources from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act won't get to the farmers who need it most, prompted a letter to Congress on April 7 from The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE), a group of family farm based organizations in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and South Dakota. 

The groups are calling for strong oversight of the recently passed COVID-19 aid package to ensure the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) disburses aid to people and rural communities, not global agribusiness firms that reaped tens of millions of dollars from recent trade-aid payments, according to a press release.

In the letter, CFFE urged Congress to set up guardrails for USDA regarding a total of $24 billion in aid designed to support farmers hurt by the enormous disruption in markets and supply chains caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. "While the resources are substantial, the CARES Act provides no clear guidance as to how the U.S. Department of Agriculture should allocate these public dollars," the letter stated. Concerns stem from the recent disbursal of trade-related aid through the Market Facilitation Program (MFP).

"And worse, 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 letter continued. 

Specifically, CFFE called for: no public money to go to new or expanding confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) which have flooded the market, driving farmers’ prices for livestock and milk down, while polluting rural waterways; a prohibition on multinational agribusiness firms from receiving aid; and adequate resources for farmers supplying local markets that have disappeared. 

"This crisis will produce more bailouts and more policy initiatives,"​ said Darrel Mosel, a grain-livestock farmer and Land Stewardship Project member from Central Minnesota. "The focus needs to be on long-term positive changes to our farming system, like support for local and regional food systems. But a blank checkbook approach ​for the rest of that ​money is a path towards more of the same--decimated rural communities, dirty water and a food system controlled by fewer and fewer players.”

As Congress considers a new stimulus package, CFFE pointed to the urgent need to address structural failures in agricultural markets that prevent farmers from making a fair living, according to a press release. CFFE highlighted the need for a two-year suspension of loan payments; a halt on loans for new or expanding CAFOs; a moratorium on new agribusiness and food industry mergers; stronger fair market practices rules; enabling access to safety net programs for farms and small food businesses; and mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).  

“Corporations do not need a bail-out right now. Family-scale farmers and ranchers that produce for regional communities need assistance,” said Stephanie Peterson, Dakota Rural Action Board member and owner of Fruit of the Coop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “This current crisis has highlighted, more than anything, the need to reduce our dependence on large corporate food distribution systems. We should be focusing on local and regional food operations and supporting our local producers and consumers during this time of hardship and upheaval. How can we be more resilient as a community? One of those ways is to get to know the folks producing our food and buy directly from them.”

The Campaign for Family Farms & the Environment (CFFE) is composed of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Dakota Rural Action, Land Stewardship Project, Food & Water Watch, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or carol.spaeth-bauer@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carol.spaethbauer.

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