Thursday, April 16, 2020

Gillibrand crafts legislation to help struggling farms

Soil Health on Market Farms workshopThis week, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, announced landmark legislation, The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act, to provide economic relief for small farmers suffering from massive financial losses due to reduced demand and supply chain disruptions during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to information in a news release, farm bankruptcies are at an eight year high and net farm income has dropped by nearly half since 2013. The financial struggles of more than 30,000 New York farmers has only been exacerbated by the current crisis, which has devastated supply chains, as schools and restaurants have been forced to close. The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act will alleviate debt, keep farms open, and fortify the nation’s food supply, providing direct relief to the nation’s most vulnerable farmers.

Family farms received minimal benefits through SBA under the CARES Act and have struggled to access emergency federal farm aid which was allocated to USDA in the same coronavirus response package. These measures are not nearly enough to support small farms and keep them operating throughout the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act would directly address this crisis by providing a one-time debt forgiveness of up to $250,000, across three types of USDA FSA loans: Direct Farm Operating, Direct Farm Ownership, and Emergency Loans. All small farms with an average adjusted gross income of up to $300,000 for the previous five years will be eligible, regardless of their commodities. Additionally, while many debt relief programs exclude farmers from future benefits, the legislation would ensure that farmers who receive debt forgiveness or write-downs maintain their eligibility for further USDA Direct and Guaranteed loans. It would also ensure that farmers receive the full relief by making the forgiveness nontaxable. The Relief for America’s Small Farmers Act will help nearly 40,0000 farmers get back on their feet by providing a one year window to apply for debt relief and will keep them farming for at least two years after receiving the loan forgiveness.

Dairy is the New York’s primary agricultural product, yet farmers have been forced to dump between 25 million and 35 million pounds of milk while prices plummet and processing plants close in response to COVID-19. Additionally, produce growers across the country who have been recently unable to sell their product, are now worrying about the possibility of entire harvests being wasted in coming months if they lack access to labor to harvest. The current problems are compounded by years of financial hardship which has led to an average of 12,000 farmers leaving the farming business between 2011 and 2018. This financial distress has damaged rural mental health and contributed to the growing epidemic of farmer suicides in the United States. The Relief for America’s Small Farmer’s Act would help put farms back on the path to economic stability, while ensuring that relief is provided directly to the farmers that need it most.

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