Watne: Relief for family farmers could be on the way | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Watne: Relief for family farmers could be on the way

Apr 21, 2020

The president of the North Dakota Farmers Union is hopeful the new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program will provide relief to family farmers and ranchers.

That program –announced recently by the USDA –will provide $19 billion to support agriculture producers. $16 billion of that would go toward direct payments to producers, and $3 billion would go toward buying products for food banks.

Farmers Union President Mark Watne said he’s waiting for the formal guidance from USDA on how the program will roll out. He said with depressed prices and trade disruptions, coupled with COVID-19, farmers need this shot in the arm.

"We just think we can over-produce ourselves into profit, but that just doesn't work in the long term," Watne said. "When you add trade disruptions, a pandemic disruption, all of a sudden this 'just-in-time' food supply that everybody relies on doesn't really work, either for the farmer or the consumer."

Watne said while the US needs that continued food supply, it can't be to the detriment of the marketplace.

"Farmers simply can't survive," Watne said.

Of the $19 billion, $5.1 billion is earmarked for the beef industry. But Watne said he would also like to see an investigation into concentration in the meatpacking industry – which he said is depressing the prices cattle producers receive, but has spiked the prices consumers pay.

"With this concentration issue, they're able to sell to the consumers at high prices, and yet the cattle guys are losing money," Watne said. "It's just wrong."

Watne said the federal Justice Department needs to look into this.