Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of our nation. They not only feed our 330 million residents but a large chunk of countries around the world. Because of the COVID-19 crisis farmers across the United States are hurting, and that includes Missouri farmers.
According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, farming in Missouri is an $88 billion industry. More than 400,000 residents earn at least some of their annual income through farming. There are more than 95,000 farms in Missouri–that’s 2nd in the nation. We rank 3rd in raising beef cattle, and 4th in growing rice. Those are staggering statistics.
Federal Help for Our Nation’s Farmers
In a press briefing yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced plans for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). Currently, the CFAP is slated to receive $19 billion from the coronavirus relief bill lawmakers recently passed. This money should provide farmers and ranchers with some much-needed financial relief and keep the nation’s food supply intact.
According to Perdue, $16 billion has been allocated to directly support farmers based on their losses. The USDA plans to spend the remaining $3 billion on fresh produce, dairy, and meat products. Officials will divide this money equally each month between the three sectors with the USDA purchasing $300 million of agricultural products each month. Right now, approved distributors and wholesalers will provide a pre-approved box of food containing fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to community-based organizations that can get the food to those who need it. These organizations include local food banks, faith-based organizations, and other non-profits. It’s not yet known how these distributors will be chosen, or if government officials will ensure that food will be distributed equitably in each state.
Perdue noted that more money is available if needed, citing $873.3 million available in Section 32 USDA funding as well as another $850 million for food bank administrative costs and USDA food purchases, of which a minimum of $600 million will be designated for food purchases. That money comes from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
What Help Can Missouri Farmers & Residents Count On?
This is great, and it’s sorely needed. But what about Missouri’s farms? Will Missouri farmers receive the kind of support they need to stay in business? Will they have the money they need to fertilize their fields or harvest their crops? To repair broken fences, dig new ponds, or properly vaccinate their cattle? To pay their workers? And–can we be sure that no Missourian will go to bed hungry at night?
Well, we’re not sure. The Missouri Department of Agriculture’s website provides no information about what it’s doing, other than an open letter dated April 6th addressed to Missouri’s grocery retailers asking them to allow customers to purchase more milk in their stores. Neither the Department’s nor its director Chris Chinn’s Twitter feeds reveal any details. Director Chinn hasn’t tweeted since April 3.
Is Governor Parson Looking Out for Missouri Farmers?
Governor Mike Parson announced yesterday in a press release, $3.05 million will be awarded to 16 companies that will commit to developing broadband access in underserved areas of Missouri. According to Parson, this should eventually bring some type of Internet access to upwards of 4,400 Missouri homes, businesses, and farms. However, while it’s true we definitely need broadband access in the Show-Me State, this won’t help hurting farmers now. Nor will it feed Missouri residents who aren’t able to buy food.
We truly don’t mean to be critical, but this just doesn’t strike us as the kind of support that Missouri farmers need today. Surely there has to be more that Governor Parson can do. He is a farmer himself, after all. He of all people should know how these men and women are struggling, not knowing what the future holds. It’s time to step up your game, Governor.
Governor Parson will soon be receiving an infusion of federal stimulus dollars. He needs to spend it wisely. In order to make sure that Missourians across the state receive the benefit from this money, OneMissouri recommends that Parson tap into a valuable resource: Local county governments. Put county commissioners in charge of building a distribution council. Council members should include local Farm Bureau members, faith-based groups, school district administrators, and other non-profit organizations. These are all people who know the needs in their local communities.
By adopting a local approach, this would ensure that money reaches those who need it most. Farmers may be able to continue feeding us, and Missourians wouldn’t have to worry where their next meal was coming from. It seems like a win-win to us.
OneMissouri is committed to research, education, advocacy, and policy development on behalf of all Missourians.