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USDA tops $7 billion in pandemic aid in four months

With Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s announcement of coronavirus aid to logging and timber hauling businesses, the USDA will near $7.4 billion in allotments of pandemic assistance since the Biden administration put its mark on the relief programs. The aid ranges from “top up” payments to cattle and crop producers to funds to expand direct farmer-to-consumer marketing.

Vilsack will provide details on Tuesday of $200 million in aid for small, family-owned timber harvesting and hauling businesses that suffered losses due to COVID-19. It would be the latest in a string of allocations that have followed USDA’s creation of the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative on March 24, with an emphasis on reaching “a broader set of producers” than previous coronavirus programs, which were geared toward large producers of major commodities.

The USDA said in March it would dedicate at least $6 billion to the new programs. It was more than $1 billion above the target, according to its tally on Monday. The largest items were $4.8 billion in payments of $20 an acre for row crops and $1.2 billion in additional payments to cattle producers. Those payments began in April, said the USDA.

Also in USDA’s tally were $500 million for specialty crops, local agriculture marketing, and beginning farmer and rancher programs, as well as a $5-per-acre discount in crop insurance premiums for farmers who planted cover crops.

Assistance to timber producers would be part of “Round 2” in aid, said the USDA. The new round began with the announcement a week ago of an estimated $300 million for pig and poultry producers who were forced to destroy animals because of COVID-19 outbreaks at packing plants.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree were to join Vilsack for a teleconference on the timber assistance. Both are members of congressional Appropriations committees and are from states with timber industries.

Still to come were details on other elements of Round 2, announced on June 15. They include $700 million for biofuel producers; aid to contract growers of poultry;, organic cost-share assistance; and $700 million in grants to producers, processors, distributors, and farmers markets for personal protective equipment and other worker protection measures. The June 15 list also had a $400 million dairy donation program and $580 million to provide Supplemental Dairy Margin Coverage for small and medium-size milking herds.

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