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With agriculture prices tanking, feds look at farmer aid

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Like many others, the agriculture industry is being ravaged by the closures aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says he’s working to get direct aid to farmers quickly, but Midwestern lawmakers say it may not be enough.

Farmers have had a rough go of it lately, with historic floods last year and crippling trade fights. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, said another setback was the last thing they needed.

“Our farmers are really taking it on the chin,” Axne said. “It’s just a hit, one more hit.”

Michael Nepveux, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the pandemic has sent crop and livestock prices spiraling.

“People are just bleeding money,” he said of farmers. “What would you do tomorrow if 40% of your annual income just disappeared? That’s kind of the position a lot of these farmers are in.”

With restaurants and schools shuttered and nowhere to sell, some farmers are even dumping their goods.

“They don’t have a place to take it,” Nepveux explained. “The situation is pretty dire on the countryside right now.”

In a tweet Thursday, President Donald Trump called on Perdue to expedite emergency aid to hurting farmers. That cash came from the last coronavirus stimulus package, which included $9 billion for emergency aid and a total of nearly $50 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The bill also made farmers eligible for more than $300 billion in small business loans.

But lawmakers and the Farm Bureau say it’s going to take more to ensure family farms don’t go under.

“They can’t be left behind,” Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said.

He said agriculture funding now is vital to protect the nation’s food supply later.

“If not, then we’re going to see shortages, we’re going to see high prices and that’s exactly what our consumers and our families don’t need,” Davis said.

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., added that aid must also go to ethanol producers who have seen demand slashed.

“People aren’t driving,” Bustos said. “Those are our corn growers.”

Perdue said details on agriculture aid programs will be out soon.

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