USDA announces additional pandemic aid to ag producers, businesses

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack (pictured in 2016 file photo) announced a new pandemic assistance initiative.

The US Department of Agriculture has announced the "Pandemic Assistance for Producers Initiative," which will provide more financial assistance to ag producers and businesses.

USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack said earlier this year the department planned on a later round of financial aid to fill in the gaps from previous rounds of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and other programs. Newly available funds will be focused on the logging, biofuels, dairy and livestock industries.

“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,” Vilsack said in a press release. “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.”

A $6 billion commitment in March is being utilized for this program, which will include:

  • $980 million for dairy farmers, split into two programs: the Dairy Donation Program ($400 million) and the Supplemental Dairy Margin Coverage program for small and midsize farms
  • $200 million for family-owned timber harvesting businesses
  • $700 million for biofuels producers
  • $700 million for Pandemic Response and Safety Grants going towards industries hit hard by lack of personal protective equipment, such as meat processing
  • $20 million for organic cost share assistance, including help with those transitioning to organic production
  • Additional assistance for poultry producers who were not included in prior aid

The announcement ties in with the Biden administration's "Build Back Better" campaign, which focuses on COVID-19 recovery and long-term investments in the health and longevity of the nation's food system. Vilsack said he hopes the major investments will help make the food supply chain more resilient and equitable for Americans moving forward after many disruptions during the pandemic.

FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative, based in Madison, applauded the investment in a news statement, saying they are looking forward to working with USDA to figure out the best and most efficient ways to invest in Wisconsin's supply chain.

"The USDA has stated their desire to deliver greater value directly to farmers, growers and workers, and FarmFirst is eager to see this come to fruition," said John Rettler, dairy farmer and president of FarmFirst. "Building these long-term solutions and farmer resources, USDA is creating a foundation that will prepare U.S. agriculture to be ready to meet the demands of a recovering economy. FarmFirst looks forward to building this success for the future."

The National Farmers Union also praised USDA and noted that even though things are getting back to normal, many of the nation's food producers are still struggling with the aftermath of pandemic disruptions.

"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," said Rob Larew, president of NFU. "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."