With some New York dairy farmers forced to dump milk because of bottoming-out prices, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to send immediate aid directly to struggling farm operations.
There are more than 33,000 farms in New York state, Schumer, D-N.Y., said. With restaurants, schools and other industries closing nationwide due to coronavirus concerns, farmers are losing major revenue streams.
Given the disruptions in supply chains, rampant food insecurity and the importance of New York agricultural products in the U.S. food supply, the USDA must expedite the allocation of the $9.5 billion emergency agriculture aid set aside in the $2 trillion CARES Act and prioritize New York farmers, Schumer said.
He sent a letter this week to USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue urging release of funds to farmers.
“New York’s farmers and the New York agricultural industry is the lifeblood of the nation,” Schumer said. “In good times, New York farmers work long hours on tight margins but in the midst of a global pandemic, they are losing revenue streams, suffering huge financial losses and being forced to discard their products during a time when we need a reliable food supply.”
The senator said he fought to make the $9.5 billion accessible to help farmers during the crisis, and it is imperative that it immediately be put to use.
In addition to demanding immediate help for struggling New York farmers, Schumer called for the USDA to take New York dairy producers, specialty-crop farmers and local and organic farms into consideration as among the hardest hit in the nation.
Schumer said some dairy co-ops are directing farmers to dump their milk, indicating a huge loss in revenue for New York agriculture; milk is New York’s No. 1 agricultural product.
Some farmers, the senator said, dumped more than 100,000 pounds of milk last week, and it is estimated that dairy farmers statewide were forced to dump between 25 million and 35 million pounds.
Nurseries are also struggling to survive in the midst of the crisis because they are designated as non-essential businesses, while their large-corporation hardware store competitors are allowed to remain open. Schumer urged the USDA to support small business nurseries as they struggle to get through the crisis.
New York Farm Bureau also is calling for the CARES funding to be used for direct payments to farms.
David Fisher, NYFB president, also sent a letter to Perdue to make the case for federal assistance for a diverse range of farms in New York — many of which may not meet traditional eligibility requirements for Small Business Administration programs.
Fisher notes the crisis comes at time when “food security is of utmost importance.”
Fisher’s letter states, “While no one could have predicted the extent of this virus on the country or its food supply, the impacts have been real and unprecedented for America’s farmers, including those in New York. Not only have farmers experienced the loss of markets, dumping of products, and labor disruptions, also there remains uncertainty of when they may see any type of recovery.”
In addition to direct payments, Fisher’s requests include:
• USDA should immediately make purchases of dairy products including but not limited to fluid milk, butter, cheeses and dry milk powders. Additional support could be provided through export assistance programs and direct commodity support.
• Creation of a voucher program for people in need through the Milk Donation Program, as authorized under the 2018 Farm Bill, to facilitate the distribution of donated milk through grocery stores and other venues since some food banks and food pantries often do not have enough cold storage to accept large quantities of highly perishable products.
• USDA should consider developing a purchase program that would quickly provide stability to all impacted fresh produce growers through the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
• Provisions should be made for livestock, equine, horticulture, craft distilleries, maple producers and more who are facing closures and a significant loss of business.