Ag groups praise $33B in farm-related pandemic relief aid

Green Plains has an ethanol plant in Superior, Iowa. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The $900 billion pandemic relief legislation passed by Congress late Monday includes $33 billion in aid for farms, broadband, biofuels and nutrition programs.

Agriculture groups were quick to praise the bipartisan package, months in the making. The aid includes $11.2 billion Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will use to “support producers, processors and contract growers,” the American Farm Bureau Federation reported

“We’re pleased that Congress understands that there’s been a toll that this pandemic has continued to take on farmers, ranchers and rural America,” Scott Bennett, congressional relations director for Farm Bureau, said in a Farm Bureau podcast. 

“This round of assistance, it addresses losses suffered by farmers who were forced to euthanize livestock prematurely with no market and therefore no income, and that includes contract growers,” Bennett said. “We’re pleased that the bill provides additional help for specialty and non-specialty crop growers. And the Paycheck Protection Program will help small farmers continue operating.”

In addition to the $13 billion allocated to address pandemic-related effects on farms, the legislation passed Monday includes $13 billion for nutrition programs and $7 billion for broadband improvements. 

The aid comes after a year when farmers shut down ethanol plants for weeks and were forced to euthanize some livestock because of pandemic-related disruptions of packing plants.

Biofuels groups were among the first to praise the action. 

“We’re grateful to Congress for stepping up and preventing needless uncertainty from holding back the rural recovery,” Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said in a statement. “In 2020, ethanol production is down about 13% compared to the previous year, and 2021 is also projecting to be lower than 2019 levels.”

“Ensuring stability is imperative as we head into the new year, and we urge Secretary Perdue to move quickly on providing relief to the biofuels industry,” added Skor, whose organization represents biofuels interests. “We are also glad to see long-term investment in innovation that helps protect our climate, our health, and our economy through the extension of several key biofuels tax credits. Getting these updates signed into law will jump start growth in these innovative technologies at a time when revitalizing rural communities has never been more important.”

Growth Energy sent a letter to Congress last week pushing for aid in what has been a particularly tough year for Iowa farmers faced with drought, derecho damage, low demand for ethanol and low commodity prices. 

Iowa is the nation’s top producer of both corn and ethanol made with the grain. 

The Renewable Fuels Association said the pandemic has been a $4 billion hit on the renewable fuels industry, making the aid package essential. 

“Passage of this landmark legislation is great news for America’s ethanol producers, who have struggled through the most difficult and trying year in the industry’s history,” association President and CEO Geoff Cooper said in a statement. “More than half of the ethanol industry shut down during the extraordinary demand collapse in the spring, and producers across the country still have not fully recovered from that market shock.”

Cooper said the industry expects to continue to lose money “well into 2021.”

“The legislation passed (Monday) provides a ray of hope for the industry and provides decisive direction to (Perdue) regarding the eligibility of renewable fuel producers to receive assistance” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he added.

The National Corn Growers Association said the relief bill will help give farmers more certainty heading into next year’s growing season. It includes money to rehab river locks and dams that are important to shipping commodities, he added. 

“The assistance provided by this bill will go a long way in providing the certainty corn growers need to recover from the impact of the coronavirus on our industry,” NCGA President John Linder said in a statement.