Dairy groups react to $19bn disaster package

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

At least $100m per month in dairy product purchases has been earmarked for distribution to the public through food assistance programs. Pic: Getty Images/Matt Anderson
At least $100m per month in dairy product purchases has been earmarked for distribution to the public through food assistance programs. Pic: Getty Images/Matt Anderson

Related tags Usda nmpf Dairy coronavirus COVID-19

The National Milk Producers Federation expressed appreciation to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for including dairy in the US $19bn agriculture disaster assistance package, while noting that more will be needed to stem steep losses in the dairy sector.

Of the $19bn, $2.9bn will be distributed in direct assistance to dairy farmers along with $3bn being designated for purchases within dairy, produce and meats for donation programs, specifically designating at least $100m per month in dairy product purchases for distribution to the public through food assistance programs.

“Federal dairy assistance is critically needed as the nation’s dairy farmers face an unprecedented collapse of markets resulting from the shutdown of much of the economy,”​ said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF, the largest US dairy-farmer organization. 

“The plan announced today should provide important relief to some producers, and we look forward to learning more of its details in coming days to fully understand its scope and implementation.

“Dairy’s fortunes have been especially grim, given the perishability of our product, its daily harvest and the fact that the virtual shutdown of the food service market has wiped out more than one-third of our product demand. After five years of poor prices, many producers faced financial difficulties even before the coronavirus crisis. Without more aid, this crisis could be their demise. We hope to work with USDA and members of Congress on implementing this plan and on the further assistance that will inevitably be needed due to this deepening crisis.”

NMPF thanked members of Congress who weighed in during the process to urge USDA to provide robust assistance to dairy.

“We are extremely grateful for the strong bipartisan, bicameral push from members of Congress across the country in support of a significant dairy aid package,”​ Mulhern said.

“Their important efforts built on successful bipartisan passage of the CARES Act late last month, which set the stage for this aid to be provided, and we thank them for their tireless advocacy for dairy farmers.”

NMPF and the International Dairy Foods Association developed a joint plan of assistance to farmers and processors that was sent to the department earlier this month.

FarmFirst supports deal

FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative also said it approves of the package, saying it provides much-needed financial support to US dairy farmers.

“Every day, dairy farmers have continued to get up and do their job to their best ability, day in and day out, producing a wholesome, nutritious product for consumers across the world,”​ said John Rettler, dairy farmer from Neosho, Wis. and president of FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative.

“And every day, dairy farmers have wondered how much further the markets will drop and how much more their bottom line can erode after already making it through the past five years of challenging markets.”

While many businesses were doing well before COVID-19 hit the economy and shuttered businesses across America, US dairy farmers were already experiencing issues over the past few years after surviving ongoing trade disputes and low commodity prices.

“Today’s announcement by the USDA of direct payments to dairy farmers is greatly appreciated to ensure that they can keep producing wholesome dairy products,” ​Rettler said.

“We urge the USDA to distribute these much-needed funds to dairy farmers as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence as dairy farmers contemplate how to weather this storm of COVID-19.”

Jeff Lyon, general manager for FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative, said, “These are unprecedented times for all of us. And it calls for unprecedented support of those in our nation that supply the food to feed us all​.

“We appreciate the work by Congress and the USDA in building this plan to support agriculture. Today is a very important step in what will be a long road of survival and then recovery, and we look forward to working with members of Congress to help determine additional assistance that will ultimately be needed.”

Edge thanks USDA

Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative and the Dairy Business Association also issued a statement today after U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced plans for financial help for farmers hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edge and DBA said they advocated both the direct payments and product purchases.

“As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our economy, millions of Americans cannot afford food, many for the first time in their lives, and our farmers who produce this food are struggling to survive financially. This federal assistance will be a bridge for both,”​ the cooperative said.

“The dedication of our farmers to the well-being of America has never been more evident as our nation combats COVID-19. Day in and day out, they are tirelessly stepping up so that families have safe, wholesome and affordable food.

“We thank the USDA for supporting us in this critical mission.”

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