Pandemic assistance promised for Arkansas poultry growers, other farmers

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,242 views 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Tuesday (June 15) it plans to provide roughly $6 billion in additional aid to farmers, ranchers and others who make their living in the agriculture industry.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said there is $6 billion in available funds through the Pandemic Assistance Program to support a number of new initiatives or to modify existing efforts. He said the funds will be doled out over the next 60 days in an effort to fill the gaps in the previous round of assistance aimed at helping small and medium-size farmers who need the most support. The  Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments will provide aid to producers and businesses left behind.

“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 news release. “These investments through USDA Pandemic Assistance will help our food, agriculture and forestry sectors get back on track and plan for the future.”

The release did allocate some of the funds toward the following agri sectors.
• $200 million: Small, family-owned timber harvesting and hauling businesses
• $700 million: Biofuels producers
• Support for dairy farmers and processors to include $400 million for a new Dairy Donation Program to address food insecurity and mitigate food waste and loss, additional pandemic payments targeted to dairy farmers who have demonstrated losses that have not been covered by previous pandemic assistance, and approximately $580 million for supplemental Dairy Margin Coverage for small and medium farms.
• Assistance for poultry and livestock producers left out of previous rounds of pandemic assistance to include contract growers of poultry and livestock and poultry producers forced to euthanize animals during the pandemic (March 1, 2020 through Dec. 26, 2020).
• $700 million: Pandemic Response and Safety Grants for PPE and other protective measures to help specialty crop growers, meat packers and processors, seafood industry workers, among others
• Up to $20 million: Additional organic cost share assistance, including for producers who are transitioning to organic

“We have more work to do with our farming and ranching families every opportunity to earn a good living,” Vilsack said. “As the economy continues to bounce back, USDA will ensure American agriculture is ready to seize the moment.”

The release was short on details for contract poultry growers which have been directly impacted from the pandemic and slower production runs at chicken processing plants. Springdale-based Tyson Foods said its plants were running at roughly 80% capacity because of worker absenteeism. This has meant longer layout times between flocks for many growers according to Mark Lambert, an agri-economist with Arkansas Farm Bureau.

Arkansas has more than 2,400 broiler farms across the state, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau. The state also has a growing turkey industry that employs 4,154 people and supports 7,857 other jobs for those contract growers and services of farms for Cargill and Butterball.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, is the co-chair of the House Chicken Caucus in Washington. The group recently petitioned Vilsack to act on behalf of contract growers and agriculture producers who have been left out of the stimulus assistance. The caucus led a bipartisan effort to request additional direct payments on behalf of contract growers as quickly as possible.

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