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USDA launches $6 billion-plus pandemic assistance program for farmers

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Federal agriculture officials are opening up more economic assistance to farmers feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and related market disruptions.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Wednesday announced the agency would devote “at least $6 billion” to a new initiative – the USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers – aimed at reaching more agricultural producers than in previous COVID-19 aid programs.

This includes recalculating and carrying out payments for farmers of crops, including hemp, as part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).

According to the USDA, existing programs such as the CFAP will be part of the new initiative and refined to better address producers’ needs.

Vilsack said the need for the new initiative was clear after a review of previous COVID-19 assistance programs “identified gaps and disparities in how assistance was distributed,” and “inadequate outreach to underserved producers” and small and medium-sized operations.

“The pandemic affected all of agriculture, but many farmers did not benefit from previous rounds of pandemic-related assistance,” Vilsack said in a statement.

The Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative has four parts:

  • Investing $6 billion in funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act and other coronavirus funding. The goal is to expand help and assistance to more producers, including biofuels, specialty crops, beginning farmers, local, urban and organic farms, personal protective equipment for farmworkers, costs for organic certification or to continue or add conservation activities. Any required rulemaking will commence this spring.
  • Adding $500 million in new funding to existing programs. That includes $28 million for grants to state departments of agriculture to expand or sustain existing farm stress assistance programs and $75 million in additional funding for the Farmers Opportunities Training and Outreach program, assisting socially disadvantaged, veteran and beginning farmers in land ownership and operations.
  • Carrying out formula payments under the CFAP. This will provide additional assistance of $20 per acre for producers of eligible crops identified as CFAP 2 flat-rate or price-trigger crops beginning in April – including hemp, among other crops. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will automatically issue payments to eligible price-trigger and flat-rate crop producers based on the eligible acres included on their CFAP 2 applications. Eligible producers do not need to submit a new CFAP 2 application.
  • Reopening CFAP 2 sign-ups to improve access and outreach to underserved farmers for at least 60 days starting April 5. Additionally, the FSA has allocated $2.5 million to improving outreach and is working to establish partnerships with organizations connected with socially disadvantage communities so they are informed of the application process.

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