A group of 15 U.S. senators led by Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), the most senior member of the committee, called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reverse its decision to “unfairly exclude dairy farmers from receiving COVID-19 relief to cover losses related to meat production,” according to a statement from the senators.
While income for dairy farms comes primarily from milk, they often are diversified operations with significant revenue also coming from the meat of cows as they are retired from milking. In the original Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), USDA compensated dairy farmers and other livestock producers for losses related to meat produced from breeding animals. When USDA announced CFAP 2, the second version of the relief program, the department made a significant change to exclude those losses.
“This change will affect the livestock industry and will be particularly harmful to dairy farmers who often operate at extremely tight margins,” the senators wrote. “The decision is even more troubling considering that USDA clearly has sufficient resources to cover these losses. Additionally, it is less complicated for both USDA and farmers to cover all livestock and avoid confusion about what animals are covered or excluded.”
In particular, some farmers have sought out opportunities to specialize and are arbitrarily excluded by the USDA decision. For example, some farms have focused on developing superior genetics and supplying animals to other farmers who breed them and produce the animals that go directly for meat or wool production. These producers will clearly experience pandemic-related losses as the farmers they supply have had to reduce purchases, but the breeding animal decision by USDA completely excludes any assistance for these specialized farms.
“Considering the dairy industry’s traditionally tight margins, USDA’s decision to shift course and arbitrarily exclude dairy farm losses related to meat production is a significant blow,” the senators said. “We urge USDA to reverse this arbitrary decision and make breeding animals eligible for CFAP 2 like they were under the original relief program.”
The letter also noted that with respect to dairy losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the senators continue to urge USDA to provide assistance to farmers who had to dispose of milk due to the pandemic’s shock to the normal food supply. “We also encourage USDA to be flexible and work with the dairy industry, as there may be different scenarios depending on how cooperatives and farmers managed the temporary surplus. A one-size-fits-all approach may unfairly exclude some losses,” the letter added.
In addition to Stabenow and Leahy, the letter was signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), Robert Casey (D., Pa.), Angus King (I., Maine), Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), Patty Murray (D., Wash.), Kristen Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), Tina Smith (D., Minn.), Chris Murphy (D., Conn.), Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) and Gary Peters (D., Mich.).