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Economic impact of coronavirus outweighs federal help, says U.S. farm group

Christian Fernsby |
Congress allotted $23.5 billion for agriculture in the coronavirus relief package, but that amount of money will not sustain the farm sector, said the president of the largest U.S. farm group.

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The sector will need “a whole lot more than was in the CARES Act,” said Zippy Duvall of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

AFBF officials pointed to large declines in milk, cattle, hog, corn, soybean, and cotton prices during March as evidence of the losses farmers and ranchers are suffering. The produce industry was walloped, as well, with the shutdown of restaurants, schools, and the food service industry.

Farm groups are competing in public for a share of the coronavirus money. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has almost unlimited authority to apportion it.

Lawmakers said $9.5 billion was for agricultural producers hit by the coronavirus, including fruit and vegetable growers; farmers who supply local food systems; and livestock producers, including dairy farmers.

An additional $14 billion was given, with no direction on spending, to a USDA agency that has expansive powers to support farm income and commodity prices.

“The impact is widespread throughout the country and throughout commodities,” said AFBF economist Veronica Nigh.

The AFBF says cattle prices fell as much as 25%, dairy was down more than 25%, hog and cotton futures fell 31%, corn futures 14%, and soybean futures 8%. “These are dramatic declines.”

AFBF officials said they were compiling information about the impact on agriculture with an eye to recommending action by USDA within days. “This is an extremely fluid situation,” said Paul Schlegel, vice president for public affairs.

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