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More pandemic aid on tap for agriculture, says Vilsack

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced up to $200 million in pandemic relief for loggers and timber haulers on Tuesday and said “there is more to come” for agriculture in the weeks ahead. An additional $2.4 billion is on the USDA’s list for action this summer, including $700 million for biofuel producers and $980 million in dairy supports.

“The whole goal of this is to get as much of this done in 2021 as possible,” said Vilsack when asked about the pace of payments to farmers and ranchers. The Biden administration has committed $7.3 billion to coronavirus aid to farmers since March.

Sign-up began on Tuesday for an estimated $300 million in compensation for pig and poultry producers who were forced to destroy animals during 2020. The USDA announced the Pandemic Livestock Indemnity Program a week ago.

Enrollment for timber aid will run from Thursday through October 15. Timber harvesters and haulers are eligible for up to $125,000 each, based on declines of at least 10% in gross revenue during 2020. Payments will equal 80% of qualifying losses. The USDA will make a first-round payment of $2,000 with a final payment, prorated if necessary, to follow after enrollment closes. Applicants who qualify for less than $2,000 will get their entire payment in the first round.

As with other sectors of the economy, production at sawmills and wood processing plants was disrupted by the pandemic last year, with the effects rippling back to loggers and timber truckers. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, said the timber program “will provide a key tool for our timber professionals as they recover.”

Timber assistance is part of the administration’s umbrella Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. The USDA said it planned to implement six additional aid programs this summer. They include $700 million for biofuel producers; $700 million in grants to producers, processors, distributors, and farmers markets for personal protective equipment; a $400 million dairy donation program; approximately $580 million in Supplemental Dairy Margin Coverage for small and medium-size dairies; and cost-share aid to organic producers.

Besides the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative, the USDA operates a Build Back Better program to strengthen the food system. Vilsack said $6 billion is earmarked for that effort, including the $500 million offered early this month for grants, loans, and technical assistance to expand meat processing capacity.

“Between these two programs, we have essentially made commitments of $13 billion,” said Vilsack during a teleconference. More announcements will be made for each program in the near term, he said. “So, yes, there is more to come.”

The USDA created a website, farmers.gov/pathh, with information about timber assistance.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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