As congressional leaders hammer out an agreement on a stimulus package in response to the economic devastation caused by COVID-19, farmers and ranchers are asking Congress for help that will allow them to keep planting, harvesting and raising the affordable food that’s vital to every American.
Of particular importance to agriculture is an expansion of USDA’s borrowing authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“Farmers and ranchers will not let Americans down during this unprecedented crisis. We are asking Congress to do the same by us, because thousands of producers will need help with cash flow given the rapid and unanticipated decline in commodity prices, the likely closure of ethanol plants, and the decline in full-service restaurant and school meal demand, among other changes,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a statement.
There is a long history of the CCC being tapped to responsibly support agriculture in times of crisis, Duvall noted, and this should be no different.
The organization is asking Congress to allow USDA’s various agencies to expand the use of their tools, like providing no-or low-interest loans and other lending assistance to producers and engaging with companies to ensure farmers continue to have markets for their products.
On the labor front, Farm Bureau urged Congress to ensure farmers are not further crunched by the labor shortage, either by designating the H-2A visa category as emergency or critical or through some other mechanism. Allowing workers to continue to travel between Arizona and their homes in Mexico is important too, as is automatically extending the length of H-2A visas.
“American agriculture is uniquely vulnerable, particularly because of our ongoing labor shortage, the perishability of our crops, and the thin margins on which so many producers work,” Duvall wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders.
Improving access to broadband and allowing rural health care clinics to treat patients via telemedicine are especially important as efforts to contain the coronavirus are focused on social distancing, Farm Bureau also said.