Thompson to farmers: Sign up for CFAP coronavirus aid program
Back in January, farmers in Pennsylvania and around the United States were hopeful that 2020 would be “a year of recovery,” Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert said Monday.
“We’ve been in eight years of a down farm economy, and things were really starting to come together,” said Ebert, who has a farm near New Alexandria, Westmoreland County, during a summit on agriculture policy hosted by U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Centre, at Mount Aloysius College.
Milk prices were starting to bounce back. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the successor to the 1990s’ North American Free Trade Agreement, was signed in late 2019, and the U.S.-China Phase One trade agreement was signed in January. All in all, Ebert said, farmers thought things were looking up.
“Then,” Ebert said, “it seemed like the world stopped in the middle of March, when COVID-19 hit. Schools shut down. Restaurants shut down. It was amazing how fast things changed. One day, we had markets. The next day, we didn’t. Farmers had to dump milk. Farmers were plowing under vegetables and fruit crops. Livestock producers were wondering if they had a market for their animals.”
Ebert, Thompson, Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Undersecretary Bill Northey on Monday discussed the actions taken by the state and federal governments to help farmers bounce back from those blows; Mount Aloysius College President John McKeegan moderated the forum.
Ebert and Thompson spoke in person from the Cresson campus, while Redding, Northey and about 85 farmers and other interested members of the public attended by videoconference.
“For a variety of reasons, times have been tough for farmers, landowners and rural areas around the nation,” Thompson said. “While this is true for many commodities, this is especially true for our Pennsylvania dairy industry.”
Thompson, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said he wants to raise awareness among farmers of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which provides financial assistance to producers of certain eligible commodities who dealt with price drops or supply-chain disruptions as a result of the pandemic. USDA’s Farm Service Agency is accepting applications for the program through Aug. 28.
“There are farmers, I’m finding, that are not signed up for it,” Thompson said after the summit. “It’s as simple as them reaching out to their local Farm Service Agency. It is very important because that deadline is quickly approaching. I thought there was some really good news here for the farmers that have signed up for it and those who will now – the first payment was only 80%, with no guarantee they were going to get the other 20%. It sounds like they’re going to get the remaining 20% and not have to do anything.”
Northey said the pandemic has proved the usefulness of the Dairy Margin Coverage program, which he called “a great risk-management tool.”
The program, first authorized in the 2018 farm bill, offers financial protection to dairy producers when milk prices drop below a certain threshold.
“Pennsylvania was the third-largest state in the number of farms that signed up for that,” Northey said, “but we did have some farmers that wished they could go back and sign up for it. We will have that open up for 2021 later this fall. … We very much encourage folks – treat it like an insurance policy. We all hope it doesn’t kick in. We hoped it wouldn’t kick in this year. It really is a nice policy to buy in case the unforeseen happens.”
Other hot topics of discussion included efforts to recruit young people into the farming business and to expand the availability of broadband internet service in rural areas. Ebert and Thompson said the latter effort is comparable in scope and importance to electrification of rural areas in the 1930s; today’s farmers need reliable high-speed internet for precision agriculture and direct online marketing, they said.