The U.S. agricultural sector more than welcomed that news that the CARES Act includes financial aid and other forms of relief for farmers.
Out of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $9.5 billion disaster relief program was created to provide disaster relief to members of the agricultural sector. Even more welcome is that the relief money for specialty crop producers, livestock and dairy producers, as well suppliers of produce for farmers markets, restaurants and school cafeterias, is separate from the funds allotted to the Commodity Credit Corporation. The CARES Act also extends financial assistance that will enable the credit entity to extend 12-month loans to those who suffer losses.
Based on an economic analysis undertaken by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), the loss of access to direct markets as a consequence of social distancing and shelter-in-place restrictions will result in loss of direct market sales amounting to as much as $1 billion among small U.S. farmers.
Concerns Raised by the NSAC Over the CARES Act Relief for Farmers
While it is true that legislators of the CARES Act remembered to include small farmers among the recipients of disaster relief funds, concerns are raised on how the stimulus package will be administered by the USDA. The NSCA pointed out that the legislation did not provide directions on how the USDA should distribute the funds, nor specify loan payment structures.
Moreover the NSAC is wary that there will be a repeat of history in which smaller-scale farmers who sold their crops and produce in farmers’ markets, did not have first priority, nor had access at all, to the relief funds. Notwithstanding that this group of farmers, particularly those who are already experiencing systemic disparity, have fewer resources to support them in times of economic crisis and financial hardship.
The Plight Faced by Small Farmers During the Ongoing Covid-19 Crisis
In counties and communities under lockdown and where citizens have been mandated to shelter-in-place, many farmers’ markets have been ordered to shut down. Orders came after health authorities noted that the conditions in farmers’ markets made it difficult for consumers and sellers to maintain social distancing.
In San Diego City for one, farmers’ markets were immediately met with permit cancellations. Still, they were subsequently granted permission to operate as essential service providers. During the week however, not a few farmers’ markets in the city had to shut down due to the limitations imposed by social distancing and public gathering mandates.
Even if there is a great demand for farm produce, which farmers are capable of supplying, the problem presented by the Covid-19 crisis is that people cannot just converge in farmers’ markets where social distancing is next to impossible. Although some have taken alternative marketing steps by selling and offering to deliver their farm products via the Internet, not all small farmers possess the technical knowhow or ability to carry on with such strategies.
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