As Congress debates another round of funding for COVID response, we need to ensure that they don’t forget about our farmers.
Farmers, ranchers, and food producers of all types are facing a crisis right now. Some – especially those who had established direct-to-consumer businesses – are seeing record sales. But they are facing increased costs, concern for their own health and the health of their workers, and a lot of uncertainty about what comes next. Others have lost major revenue streams where markets have closed, as well as from lost sales to restaurants, schools, and institutions.
And outside the local food community, the news is uniformly bad. Dairy farms, already on the brink of bankruptcy, are being told to dump their milk because it’s too hard to get this highly perishable product to groceries. Large fields of vegetables are rotting because of transportation or distribution problems. While meat prices have gone up, the prices being paid to ranchers have gone down – and with large-scale slaughterhouses closing down because of outbreaks among workers, the situation is getting worse.
In the long run, we need significant legal and policy changes to convert our country to a resilient, diversified, local and regional approach to agriculture and food. We’re already working on proposals at the state and federal level, to reduce unnecessary regulatory barriers on everything from produce to value-added foods to meat.
But right now, we need to take action to help farmers and ranchers survive the crisis caused by COVID-19, and protect the livelihoods of farm, fish, and food workers. We need to support the small businesses that provide food for our country, so that we can build a more resilient system moving forward. Members of Congress are in their home districts this week. Tell them to support family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food system workers.
- Look up your elected officials’ contact information and call their in-state office. Be sure to click “MORE” next to the DC address to find the home office info.
- Wait for an operator or staffer to answer and to take your message (or leave the message below on their answering machine)
- Share the message below (or something similar):
“I am a ________ (farmer, consumer, etc.) from _________ (city and state) calling in support of family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food system workers. We need (the elected official’s name) to provide leadership in protecting everyone who brings food to our tables, especially in this period of crisis. In particular, we urge Congress to pass legislation to support our local food systems, relieve crushing debt for farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, and ensure that they – rather than corporations – are paid fairly
I would like to know where (elected official’s name) stands on these issues. Please contact me at ___________. Thank you.”
The National Family Farm Coalition, Farm Aid, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, IATP, HEAL Food Alliance, and WhyHunger have created a joint set of proposals for Congress in addressing the crisis for local food producers, conventional family farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, and for food workers. Read the 2-page fact sheet here.
Of those proposals, these are the ones FARFA is focusing on:
- Categorize farmers’ and seafood markets and local food hubs as essential services and provide emergency funding for operations and food safety training, to continue feeding local communities.
- Double funding for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program and allow program funds to cover direct sales from participating family-scale farms and boats to eligible consumers.
- Allocate $200 million to the USDA Local Agriculture Marketing Program (LAMP).
- Enact an immediate moratorium on mergers and acquisitions in the food and agriculture sectors, and enforce antitrust laws, particularly in the dairy, beef, and seed industries.
- Increase transparency in the food system and support American producers by reinstating and expanding mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat, dairy, and seafood.
- Allocate an additional $4.5 billion in funding for emergency direct payments to producers that can demonstrate revenue losses due to COVID-19, and designate at least 50% (if not more) of the relief funds for small- and medium-scale operations.
- Direct USDA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to prioritize financial and credit assistance to small- and mid-sized operations and historically underserved producers, and prohibit producer funds from being allocated to integrators, packers, milk handlers, processors, or other intermediaries.
- Support Senator Gillibrand’s Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act, released Monday, which would forgive FSA debt up to $250,000 for small-scale producers, many of whom have been hit hard by the closure of schools and restaurants.
You don’t need to get specific in your call – but if these or any other particular reforms are important to your farm, ranch, or food business, share your story with the staffer when you call!
Several of these asks have already been presented to the USDA in a joint letter sent by over 750 organizations, and you can read that letter here.