Thousands of farmers sought aid in the first few days after the application period opened for the $50 million Wisconsin Farm Support Program.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, as of 7 a.m. on June 18, 6,554 Wisconsin farmers had applied for one-time direct payments of between $1,000 and $3,500.

Payments from the Wisconsin Farm Support Program are available for farmers who had a gross income between $35,000 and $5 million based on 2019 tax filings and will be made on a sliding scale based on gross income.

Gov. Tony Evers introduced the $50 million Wisconsin Farm Support Program in May. The funding is part of the money allocated to Wisconsin through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

“The goal is to fully exhaust that $50 million,” Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary-designee Randy Romanski said during a June 18 conference call with agricultural media. “The Department of Revenue will start getting checks out the door in mid-July, once they know how many applicants there are.”

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s online application system can be found at www.revenue.wi.gov. Those unable to apply online can call the Department of Revenue at 608-266-2772.

The application period ends June 29 at 11:59 p.m.

Evers in May also announced the $15-million Food Security Initiative to combat hunger in Wisconsin. The funding for that also came through the federal CARES Act.

Romanski said about $5 million of that would go to food banks to help them adapt how they operate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The remaining $10 million will be used to try to connect Wisconsin food to the food insecure.

“We’re working to finalize the details of the program. This one we’re building from the ground up,” he said. “The good news is we’ve developed relationships with organizations across the state in advance.”

Romanski recommended checking www.datcp.wi.gov for information on getting involved with that program.

Federal programs

On June 17, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the USDA’s plan to extend the contracts of select vendors from the first round of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. The extension accounts for up to $1.16 billion of food of the remaining $1.8 billion from the $3 billion program and runs from July 1-Aug. 30.

The program’s initial $1.2 billion in purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat products were to be packaged into family-sized boxes and transported to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need through June 30.

Of the initial $1.2 billion allocated through the food box program, Wisconsin farmers saw only about $9 million come their way. The USDA plans to revisit some applicants from the first round that were not selected, and Romanski said he is optimistic Wisconsin farmers will benefit from the approximately $640 million left to be allocated from the program.

“Despite what we thought were strong applications and strong interest from Wisconsin entities, Wisconsin was not as included in the USDA program as we would have expected,” Romanski said. “We’ll continue to aggressively pursue answers on the details of that next round of applications, because we want to help build the case about Wisconsin organizations maximizing their opportunities for success this time around. I really think it’s important that Wisconsin producers have the opportunity to participate in that program in a larger capacity than they have thus far.”

The USDA announced that Wisconsin is ranked second in the country based on direct payments made to farmers as part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, with $218 million in payments made to farmers. Of that, Romanski said, dairy payments make up about 71% of the state’s total.

“There have been a lot of impacts due to COVID-19 to Wisconsin agriculture and Wisconsin farmers,” Romanski said. “There’s a lot of need out there.”

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program is administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency. Applications will be accepted through Aug. 28. More information about that program can be found at www.farmers.gov/cfap.

USMCA to take effect

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade agreement goes into effect July 1, and Romanski said DATCP’s International Agribusiness Center officials have been working to keep trade relations for Wisconsin products alive despite challenges presented by COVID-19.

“Canada and Mexico are two of Wisconsin’s most valuable trading partners for agricultural exports,” he said. “When (USMCA) was originally forged, there was some great interest to see what could happen. Clearly COVID-19 has intervened, but the finalization of this agreement, it’s hoped, will set up some additional successes in exports to two of our major partners.”