RELEASE: Young, diversified farmers left out of COVID-19 federal relief effort


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Young, diversified farmers left out of COVID-19 federal relief effort
An entire generation of farmers who are busy in the fields and packing boxes to feed their communities received an empty relief package from the USDA.

Contact: Jessica Manly, Communications Director, National Young Farmers Coalition
press@youngfarmers.org, 518-643-3564 x 722

 

Washington, D.C. (May 19, 2020) – The National Young Farmers Coalition is disappointed to see that the final rule for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) ignores the needs of our nation’s young farmers and ranchers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We invited USDA Secretary Perdue to meet with young farmers and hear directly from them about how COVID-19 threatens their farm businesses,” said Sophie Ackoff, Co-Executive Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “Secretary Perdue declined, and the result is $16 billion dollars in emergency funding that is out of reach for our nation’s young farmers.”

Though the CARES Act specifically listed relief funding for local and regional food systems, CFAP does not help the thousands of young farmers who are building diversified farms and ranches and rely on direct-to-consumer sales (CSA, farmers markets, farm stands) and wholesale accounts (restaurants and institutions).

CFAP doesn’t take into account the diversity of U.S. agriculture, including crop diversity, geographically distinct growing seasons, and price premiums. The program will not work for an entire generation of producers building diversified farm businesses that feed their local communities. Enterprises that sell many different crops through direct-to-consumer markets, depend on premiums from Organic certification, and that are seeing the biggest impacts from COVID-19 after stay-at-home orders were issued in March will not benefit.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) estimates a loss of up to $1.32 billion from local and regional sales from March to May 2020. According to USDA, one in four beginning farmers and ranchers use local food markets to differentiate their product and earn prices above commodity levels (USDA NASS, 2018). In our 2017 National Young Farmer Survey, 75% of young farmers and ranchers in our network reported relying on these markets.

COVID-19 is a threat to all those involved in agriculture, but our nation’s young farmers are particularly vulnerable. Their farm businesses, already in the precarious early years of production, are struggling with lost markets. Seventy-five percent of farmers who took our recent national coronavirus impact survey reported experiencing lost sales due to reduced outlets to sell their products. Declining restaurant sales, farmers market closures, and market uncertainty threatens the success of their season. In addition to lost markets, they are incurring the added costs of pivoting to alternative sales strategies, dealing with disruption to planned infrastructure projects, working around a lack of available support resources for their business, and taking on unanticipated caretaking responsibilities.

We presented Secretary Perdue and the USDA with several solutions to make CFAP accessible for young farmers and farmers of color:

  1. Given that many small and beginning producers operate highly diversified farms and ranches with innovative business models, and that there are many uncertainties about how the growing season will unfold, we asked for payments based on total farm revenue, so that local and Organic market premiums could be taken into account. Instead, we have a program based on price loss which does not fully represent the scale of economic losses due to COVID-19.
  2. To ensure fair distribution of funds, we asked USDA to implement set-asides for young farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers, to increase outreach and technical assistance, and to make data on their participation publicly available. Thirty percent of farmers in our 2017 survey had no familiarity with USDA and its programs. CFAP contains no such set-asides and while CFAP includes an August deadline, the limited funding available and the Secretary’s promise to have checks start flowing to producers in a matter of days means farmers with little familiarity navigating USDA programs will be at a significant disadvantage.

 

“The lack of acknowledgement of market loss will mean game over for many young farmers and farmers of color in accessing this funding. In addition, these producers have less familiarity with and trust in the USDA,” said Ackoff. “They simply can’t compete when funding is first-come, first-serve. Set-asides guarantee more time and outreach to ensure these owner-operators are able to access emergency funds in the busiest time of the growing season.”

With the average age of American farmers approaching 60 years, we must ensure COVID-19 relief efforts are accessible and targeted to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Without this support, we risk losing a generation of farmers to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The National Young Farmers Coalition (Young Farmers) is an advocacy network of farmers fighting for the future of agriculture. Visit Young Farmers on the web at www.youngfarmers.org, and on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram

 

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