Farmers, awaiting aid, continue call for help

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While coronavirus/COVID-19 has had a sweeping impact on the health of many individuals, industries such as farming continue to see the impact of the financial virus accompanying the pandemic.

In recent weeks, reports of farmers dumping milk due to supply chain issues or lack of a buyer have become common news headlines.

However, elected officials and farmers have made the call for help with the farming economic injury. 

While money has been made available, some steps to accessing it might still be unclear.

In a recent United States Department of Agriculture announcement, $16 billion has been set aside in a relief package for dairy farmers nationwide.

The program will provide support based on actual losses for agricultural producers where prices and market supply chains have been impacted and will assist producers with additional adjustment and marketing costs resulting from lost demand and short-term oversupply, according to information.

“New York Farm Bureau appreciates USDA’s announcement to provide emergency economic aid to our farmers in light of the serious market disruptions and collapsed commodity prices related to the COVID-19 pandemic. New York Farm Bureau wrote a letter this month to (U.S. Secretary of Agriculture) Sonny Perdue requesting the direct assistance and a federal food purchase program to help stabilize prices. $16 billion will now be directed to our farm families along with $3 billion to purchase meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetables…,” said New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher in a portion of a statement.

Tuesday afternoon, Ben Simons, treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of the Boonville Farmers Cooperative said guidance or determining aid factoring had not yet trickled to farmers.

This was also confirmed Wednesday by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency officials - who typically administer such relief programs for farmers. Additional details were not immediately available.

Impact

For New York dairy farmers, the financial relief is coming at a time when coronavirus-related business issues are being seen locally as well as across the state and beyond.

The Boonville Co-Op represents 40 dairy farms between Rome and the Lewis County border. While Simons hasn’t dumped milk on his own dairy farm in recent weeks, others have. Of farmers represented by the Co-Op, the first 15 days of April saw about 82,500 gallons of milk dumped in fields because there was no buyer, Simons said in example.

Dairy farmers typically sell milk through entities like the Boonville Co-Op to vendors in the grocery or food service sectors.

While grocery stores are still selling milk to customers, the food service market - which supplies schools, restaurants, dining halls at colleges and the like has taken a nosedive.

While restaurants are offering takeout, the limiting of services offered in that industry is contributing to the decline, Simons continues.

What’s more, as large public events heading through the summer are being canceled due to the unknown of social distancing guidelines wreaking havoc with event planners, Simons said of business for the Boonville Co-Op.

Elsewhere in the state, a spokeswoman for Stewart’s Shops says the company has been able to maintain dairy business health by selling Stewart’s branded product in their own stores.

“We’ve seen a 25% spike in our milk and packaged ice cream products and we are keeping the 25 local dairy farms we work with very busy. We are finding that more people prefer the convenience of their local Stewart’s Shop as opposed to going into big grocery stores,” said spokeswoman Erica Komoroske in a statement, referring to the grocery supply side of the dairy business. She added that none of the farmers Stewart’s works with have had to dump their milk.

Looking forward

Simons and a Farm Service Agency official said that details about the relief aid are currently being worked on.

Fisher, at the New York Farm Bureau continued in a statement: “We look forward to learning more details about the aid package and will work with the USDA and our farmers to get the assistance quickly to where it needs to go.”

For more details on the USDA relief program, visit: https://bit.ly/2RW1OMe

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