Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District is home to over 18,000 farms, and as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, most of them are in a crisis. Now is the time to come together to support family farmers to ensure farming remains the backbone of rural Wisconsin for generations to come. To that end, I put forward a 5-point Family Farm Rescue Plan laying out actions that USDA and the Administration can take using already existing authorities and funding to support family farms throughout the crisis.
First, my plan called for the Administration to purchase excess food products and deliver them to food banks, which are seeing demand skyrocket due to increased food insecurity from the virus. About a third of all Wisconsin dairy products go to the food service industry, which has virtually come to a halt due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In order to prevent those high-quality dairy and other food products from going to waste, USDA needs to mobilize efforts, including using our National Guard, to distribute this food to people in need.
Second, USDA should also use the funds Congress included in the CARES Act to provide direct support for producers. In particular, they should use funds available through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) for farmers impacted by COVID-19, which the Administration has previously used to pay farmers impacted by the Administration’s trade war. USDA has since announced that payments are coming. They need to make sure our family farmers receive a fair share, rather than support mainly going to large agribusinesses.
Third, the Administration should also reopen the dairy margin coverage (DMC) program. After years of low milk prices, many dairy farmers who were barely scraping by in recent years were unable to justify the costs of the plan’s premiums when there was little chance of any payout in 2020, and enrollment in the program plummeted. While 87% of Wisconsin dairy farmers signed up for the program in 2019, only 49% signed up in 2020. Dairy farmers shouldn’t be expected to predict a pandemic — USDA should reopen DMC enrollment to give farmers access to an existing and effective program that could mean the difference between staying open or losing the farm.
Fourth, Congress also created emergency small business support programs as part of the CARES Act to make sure our small businesses survive the crisis. My plan called for farmers to be fully eligible for these programs, as they are the backbone of Wisconsin’s rural economy. Unfortunately, the Administration was slow to provide guidance to our farmers, which led to a delay in farmers and rural lenders accessing the program. While more guidance has since been provided, they need to ensure any outstanding questions by farmers are swiftly addressed.
Fifth, moving forward, the Administration must take steps to end the shortsighted trade war across the globe and fully implement the USMCA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. The trade war has devastated farmers by closing critical export markets that farmers had worked so hard to cultivate. Reopening these markets will be critical for a swift recovery for agriculture after the crisis has ended.
These are a few commonsense steps that the Administration has the authority and funding to take. They should do it quickly to ensure family farmers have the support they need to survive this crisis and lay the groundwork for them to succeed in the future. I do not want to wake up in a country dependent on few but very big agribusinesses for all our food needs. That’s not good for consumers, certainly not good for our family farmers who are fighting to keep their operations going, and not good for the food security system that a great nation like ours needs.
Congressman Ron Kind represents Wisconsin’s third congressional district.