Q&A: COVID-19 Impacts Iowa Agriculture

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By U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley

Q: What is the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program?

A: The USDA will accept applications through Aug. 28, 2020 from farmers for pandemic-related financial assistance. The direct payments will help keep hard-hit farming operations afloat due to catastrophic disruptions in the marketing and distribution systems of the nation’s food supply chain. Congress approved historic funding in the CARES Act to ensure U.S. food producers are able to continue the essential work feeding and fueling America during this crisis and beyond. The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will provide up to $16 billion in direct relief payments to help farmers absorb sale losses, price declines and surplus agricultural commodities. To determine eligibility, farmers need to complete an application with their local Farm Service Agency and provide required documentation within 60 days of application. Livestock eligible for CFAP include cattle, lambs, yearlings and hogs. Payments also are available for grain, wool, dairy and specialty crops. Find a full list of eligible crops here. Find the application form and a payment calculator here. Farmers should schedule an appointment with their local FSA office for help with the application process and call ahead before submitting the application electronically. To speak directly with a USDA employee, contact the CFAP call center at (877) 508-8364.

Q: What additional efforts are you pushing to support Iowa’s agriculture community?

A: During the last week of May, I was able to resume my county meetings for the first time since COVID-19 restricted public gatherings. Although I’ve been in constant communication with Iowans throughout the pandemic, it’s always good to get face to face feedback during my Q&As across the state. It helps me understand and better represent the concerns of citizens, civic leaders, farmers and business people in their local communities. In Pocahontas, I helped volunteers at a local food bank distribute food to families in need. I talked with community leaders about affordable housing, food security and child care challenges and heard from members of the National Guard who are helping deliver supplies to communities across our state. The USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program is helping connect farm commodities with households who need help putting food on their tables. The USDA will use CARES Act funding to purchase up to $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat. So far, more than five million boxes of food have been distributed; the USDA expects up to 40 million will be delivered across the country by June 30. I also heard from Iowa egg producers. As the number one egg production state in the country, nearly 70 percent of Iowa’s layer flocks supply the liquid egg market. So when the pandemic shut down schools, restaurants, hotels and businesses, COVID-19 effectively fried the liquid egg market and sales plummeted. As a result, egg producers catering to commercial food service have been financially shell-shocked. Until the economy gets cranked back up and people return to school, work and travel, egg producers need help to stay afloat. That’s why I teamed up with Sen. Joni Ernst, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig to call upon the USDA to expand CFAP eligibility to egg producers. They are an integral part of the nation’s food chain and state’s economy. About 1 in 6 eggs consumed in the United States is produced here in Iowa. The state’s egg industry supports more than 7,000 jobs and directly employees about 2,400 people. Finally, I’m leading the bipartisan push for additional funding to help pork producers facing an animal welfare crisis. Millions of pigs have nowhere to go due to meat processing plant closures from COVID-19. The infectious disease puts the workforce at risk and their safety must be protected. At the same time, plant closures are creating grave financial, environmental, emotional and social consequences for pig farmers. From farm to fork, I’ll continue championing American agriculture and advocate for our farmers and workers across Rural America who feed and fuel the world.

Q: Is pandemic-related relief on the table for Iowa’s renewable fuels industry?

A: Iowa’s renewable fuels industry is also under stark financial pressure as tens of millions of Americans have stayed at home and off the roads. More than 130 biofuels plants partially or fully shut down production and furloughed workers due to a nationwide slump at the pump. As a result, Iowa farmers have lost a place to market their grain and production facilities sat idle. Many plants may face bankruptcy or lack resources to purchase feedstocks like corn and soybean oil when gasoline demand returns as the economy recovers. I’m leading bipartisan efforts to direct the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to use CARES Act money that replenished the Commodity Credit Corporation to reimburse biofuel producers for feedstocks purchased in the first quarter of 2020. For the first time in our nation’s history, government shut down the economy and the sweeping ripple effect has hit the pocketbooks and livelihoods of hardworking Americans. I’m working to make sure Iowa’s biofuels industry can get back on its feet producing clean-burning renewable energy that’s good for the environment, economy and energy independence.

Let’s not forget, Iowa ethanol producers have stepped up to serve their communities during this unprecedented public health crisis. Recognizing a surging demand for products to protect people from the coronavirus, they used Iowa ingenuity and innovation to start producing alcohol-based sanitizer products. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued conflicting guidelines that have tangled the ethanol industry’s Good Samaritan efforts with unnecessary red tape. Sen. Ernst and I have urged the FDA to provide regulatory certainty so the ethanol industry can move forward and help meet the increased demand. We’re working to fix the regulatory disconnect so that our renewable fuels industry can help ensure local hospitals, nursing homes, schools and businesses have access to a safe, ample supply of hand sanitizer.