Commonwealth farmers explain impacts COVID-19 is having on business

Cattle herd in Rockingham County (Courtesy WHSV)
Cattle herd in Rockingham County (Courtesy WHSV)(WDBJ)
Published: Apr. 20, 2020 at 4:02 PM EDT
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has announced a $19 billion

Food Assistance Program to support farmers and ranchers impacted by the pandemic.

Of the $19 billion, $16 billion will be in direct payments to farmers and ranchers, and $3 billion will be in purchases of agriculture products, including meat, dairy, and produce to support producers and provide food to those in need.

The USDA will work with local food and regional distributors to deliver this food to food banks, as well as community and faith-based organizations to provide to people in need.

Bryce Blosser, the owner of GlenDor Farms in Rockingham County, said they've seen a significant drop in the market price of cattle.

"A lot of that is due to processors being shut down and not having a workforce due to the coronavirus, and you know, when they're not processing beef, we're unable to sell our feeder cattle," Blosser said.

Blosser said even though they aren't moving cattle, the expenses of maintaining and feeding the herd remain the same.

"We've seen the market drop about $200 a head on the value of our cattle going out of here, and that's even if we can sell them because right now we really don't have an outlet for them," Blosser said.

He said they've been able to make some sales during coronavirus.

"We do have a freezer beef program, as well," Blosser said. "We are providing meat to our local community and so that has helped with some revenue coming in. It's definitely not enough to cover our expenses, but every little bit helps right now."

The $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers includes those in the livestock industry, row crop producers, specialty crop producers, and other crops.

Direct payments will be determined using two calculations. First, by price losses from Jan. 1 through April 15. Producers will be compensated for 85 percent of price loss during that period.

The total of the check is also determined by expected losses from April 15 through the next two quarters. 30 percent of losses will be covered.

Farmers, like Joe Ulmer, whose sales have increased because of the virus won't get a payment.

"I think people are just looking for ways to get out of the grocery stores," Ulmer said. "We have an open-air market so you're outside buying stuff, I think they feel it's a cleaner environment."

Ulmer said because many people are stuck home, they have been interested in purchasing flowers and garden vegetables.

"I think retail markets are doing good if they can change a few things and really provide that nice atmosphere for people to shop," Ulmer said.

He said during this time they've made changes to increase business, by adding a handwashing station, curbside pickup and having employees wear masks and gloves.

USDA is expediting the rulemaking process for the direct payment program and expects to begin sign-up for the new program in early May and to get payments out to producers by the end of May or early June.

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