The USDA has committed roughly $11 billion to farmers and ranchers this year, including the top-up payments on row crops, while remodeling its pandemic relief programs in March to “reach a broader set of producers.” Dairy farmers would see $1.3 billion in assistance through three initiatives, including $400 million to encourage them to donate their products to food charities. Some $700 million was earmarked for biofuel producers but was yet to be implemented.
Corn and soybean growers collected $2 of every $3 of the top-up payments, a total of $3.2 billion, said the USDA on its payment dashboard for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), the major channel for pandemic aid to agriculture. Wheat growers got $734 million and cotton growers got $223 million. Five states in the Midwest and Plains got 40% of the top-up money, led by Iowa with $442 million and Illinois with $419 million.
Since payments began in May 2020, in the early months of the pandemic, $29.2 billion in assistance has been paid to farmers and ranchers. Top-up payments have made up the bulk of the $5.4 billion disbursed since the USDA reopened its application window for pandemic aid in early April.
Iowa was the leading state for CFAP payments overall, with $2.56 billion. It was followed by California with $2.12 billion, Nebraska with $1.91 billion, Minnesota with $1.78 billion, and Illinois with $1.71 billion.
A USDA spokesperson was not immediately available to discuss next steps for pandemic assistance.
There have been hints that the USDA would tailor aid to hog farmers rather than make top-up payments to all producers, as proposed in the final days of the Trump administration. On July 13, it said industry-supported analysis showed that small producers, particularly those who sold on the spot market or at negotiated prices, bore “a disproportionate share of losses” during slowdowns at meatpacking plants. Negotiated prices dropped significantly from April to September 2020 due to the pandemic, the USDA said, and it “has set aside $50 million in pandemic assistance funds to provide additional assistance for small hog producers that use the spot market or negotiate prices.” It said details would be announced later.
In the final week before Trump left office, the USDA proposed top-up payments of $17 a head to hog farmers. The proposal was swept up in a regulatory freeze during the change in administrations. In July, the USDA said that “using flat rates across the industry … does not take into account the different levels of harm felt by different producers.”