When President Donald Trump appointed Sonny Perdue to be Secretary of Agriculture, he told him to “take care of the farmers.” And for the past three and a half years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has met that mandate, even during these challenging and unprecedented times.
Recently, I visited with many Wisconsin farmers and heard from most that — as expected — it’s been a tough year, especially for dairy producers, who’ve faced price declines and new costs brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
I reminded all of Wisconsin’s agricultural producers that the President and USDA still have their backs. We want to make sure the Badger State can continue to provide the food, fiber and fuel that Americans and people around the globe need.
As a fourth generation Iowa farmer, I’m proud — and humbled — to lead the USDA agencies that work closest with our nation’s agricultural producers. The Farm Production and Conservation mission area delivers programs through the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Risk Management Agency directly to farmers and ranchers to help them feed people with the safest, most nutritious, and most abundant food supply in the world.
USDA has a variety of programs to do that, and one of the biggest in Wisconsin is the Dairy Margin Coverage program. DMC is a voluntary risk management program that offers protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all-milk price and the average feed price (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer. DMC payments were made to producers for seven months in 2019 and three months so far in 2020.
More than 23,300 dairy operations nationwide enrolled in the DMC program in 2019, including 5,900 in Wisconsin, the most of any state. Signup for the 2021 DMC program began October 13. (For more information on and to apply for the program, dairy producers should contact one of the 50-plus USDA Service Centers located across Wisconsin.)
One of our newest programs, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, is providing direct financial assistance to agricultural producers who’ve seen their domestic and international markets disrupted because of the pandemic. The first round of CFAP payments provided more than $10 billion nationwide and more than $522 million in Wisconsin. The second round, which runs from Sept. 21 through Dec. 11, is expected to make direct payments of up to $14 billion to the nation’s producers. (For information on eligible commodities and how to apply for CFAP, farmers and ranchers should contact their closest USDA Service Center.)
We’re also taking care of the neediest in communities around the country, including in Wisconsin. So far, USDA has distributed more than 636,000 boxes of food, including cheese and other dairy products, worth $19 million to Wisconsinites through its Farmers to Families Food Box program.
Another important and exciting program we’ve focused on over the past few years is the ReConnect Broadband Pilot Program, in which USDA partners with local institutions and communications companies to bring high-speed internet to rural communities, farms, and other businesses. In the first round of the program, USDA invested $698 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure in 33 states.
This year, USDA has announced nearly $130 million for ReConnect projects in the second round of funding, including a $3 million grant to Ntera, which will connect hundreds of households in rural Wisconsin to modern and reliable high-speed Internet.
Under the leadership of President Trump and the direction of Secretary Perdue, USDA and its dedicated staff — who refer to you folks as “our farmers” — will continue to play a supportive role in helping farmers and ranchers in Wisconsin and across the nation produce the food, fiber and fuel on which a growing world depends.
Bill Northey is USDA’s Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. He previously served as the Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa.