This week, Missouri Senators Josh Hawley and Roy Blunt joined 13 of their Senate colleagues in urging U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue to extend assistance to the dairy industry, which has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As large swaths of the U.S. economy have shuttered in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, so too have long-existing markets for U.S. dairy producers. This standstill has left dairy farmers with excess product that was originally intended for the food service industry and no channel to get their milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt into the hands of consumers.
The senators wrote to Secretary Perdue to request he use the agriculture assistance provisions in the CARES Act to provide stability for the dairy industry and prevent a collapse in farm milk prices.
“In this case assistance for the dairy industry adds up to both help for farmers and nutritious food for the entire country,” the senators wrote. “Support for Americans suddenly in need of food assistance is a national priority at this time of need. Economic stability for the dairy industry will help ensure that a stable and abundant food supply is available to the public at reasonable prices now and long into the future.”
In addition to Hawley and Blunt, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (Idaho), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Todd Young (Ind.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Mitt Romney (Utah), John Cornyn (Texas), Joni Ernst (Iowa), John Thune (N.D.), and Steve Daines (Mont.).
Full text of the letter can be found here and below:
The Honorable Sonny Perdue
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250
Dear Secretary Perdue:
We thank you for the tremendous amount of time and effort you and the entire team at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are bringing to the policy table so that farmers can survive and Americans can keep food on their kitchen table. Our farmers and ranchers are doing their part to help the nation navigate the effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Your work is providing valuable assistance in that partnership you so often refer to in your motto to “Do Right and Feed Everyone.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress and signed into law on March 27th includes several provisions for assistance to agriculture. While few sectors of the economy have been spared from the economic impacts of the heroic efforts of Americans to contain the spread of the coronavirus, perhaps none have experienced the loss of markets to the degree of the U.S. dairy industry. For example, products typically sold to dine-in restaurants, that nearly all have closed due to social distancing requirements, are backing up in warehouses and much of the farm milk used to make those products no longer has a market.
Farm milk prices are on the verge of collapse due to this shift in consumer demand. Dairy producers who, just a few weeks ago were looking at the prospect of the first promising year in more than five, are now in the most economic difficulty in memory.
In this case assistance for the dairy industry adds up to both help for farmers and nutritious food for the entire country. Support for Americans suddenly in need of food assistance is a national priority at this time of need. Economic stability for the dairy industry will help ensure that a stable and abundant food supply is available to the public at reasonable prices now and long into the future.
The Congress provided several ways in the CARES Act to help the dairy industry. We urge you to develop strong measures to help mitigate the current market upheaval so that the dairy industry can survive this crisis.