Dairy producers and other farmers across the country struggled with crashing commodity prices early on in the Coronavirus pandemic. While Collin Peterson (D-MN) says there were several shortfalls in the safety net programs outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill, but dairy wasn’t one of them.
“The one place where I think we made a huge difference was in dairy,” he said on the Dairy Defined podcast from the National Milk Producers Federation citing changes to the Dairy Margin Coverage program and the Dairy Revenue Protection program. “Dairy, now has the best safety net of any part of agriculture Especially for small dairy farmers, they without a doubt have the best safety net that there is right now. If they utilize it.”
Enrollment in the government safety net programs is an issue that reared its ugly head early in the pandemic. Thousands of farmers of all sizes had decided against participating in the government programs. According to Peterson, the failure of the margin protection program and the decision tool built by USDA are to blame for farmers’ decision to forego participation.
“I think what happened the last two months with these big checks are going to make believers out everybody,” he said, adding that producers need to think about the program as insurance.
“Banks won’t loan crop farmers money if they don’t have crop insurance,” he said. “Maybe we need to get to that point in dairy.”
Peterson added that he and his colleagues will continue working to improve safety nets for several commodities. Additionally, Peterson is worried about farm finances.
“I'm really worried about what's going to happen this winter. The only thing that saved us at this point are these [market] facilitation payments, and the CFAP payments,” he said. “If that money would not have gone off to the farmer, we'd be in big trouble right now, full stop. I think it's going to be an issue however this plays out. Because farmers are getting used to it and I think there's potentially going to be a backlash because of these huge payments that were made the last couple years.”
The federal government’s reaction to the coronavirus pandemic has been adequate, according to Peterson. Still, he said there’s more to be done.
“The problem is they have missed certain things,” he explained. “There are certain commodities that were left out and certain monies that did not get the right treatment. I wouldn’t criticize the amount, but I would have criticized the way it was put together.”
He says lawmakers should have been more engagement in the process and if they had commodities wouldn’t have been left out.
Listen to the full interview here.