WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — While the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will keep sending direct aid to keep farmers afloat amid the pandemic, some argue the payment system so far has been unfair, sending too much to big farms.
“There is a pattern here,” National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said.
He said just like with relief issued when President Donald Trump’s trade war hit the agriculture industry hard, coronavirus relief aid is going to only the top 1% of farms, some of which are foreign-owed.
He and other agriculture groups say the USDA must level the playing field, giving small farms an equal shot at relief.
“If we don’t, the impact is going to be even more bankruptcies and farms going out of business,” Larew said.
More than a dozen Democrats joined the call, arguing that in addition to small farms, minority-, veteran- and women-owned operations aren’t getting their fair share.
“I think the farmers have been ignored,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said. “Now, the big farms, corporate farms, are doing well. … The small farms are those that are struggling right now.”
But Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says the problem is an imagined one.
“This is a political narrative that comes out of every program,” he said. “This CFAP (Coronavirus Food Assistance Program) has been very clear from the very beginning: it’s for all farmers.”
He said it all comes down to outreach.
“If they come in, irrespective of their size, their crop or any other demographic that you want to mention, they’re going to be served,” Perdue said.
He said billions of dollars in relief remain untapped and available for those who apply. He added that to ensure access, last month he expanded eligibility to include 89 additional specialty crop commodities.
The USDA is asking for billions more in the next coronavirus relief package, currently gridlocked in Congress.