A second round of federal assistance for farmers struggling amid stalled trade talks with China drew optimistic approval from panel members who met with U.S. Sen. John Hoeven on Wednesday in Mandan, even though it wasn't seen as a total solution.
The North Dakota Republican met with more than 20 people from the livestock, crop, banking and food distribution industries to gather information to pass along to the federal Agriculture Department in an effort to make the second round of assistance a better product.
The additional federal aid comes on the heels of an earlier round of Market Facilitation Program payments that may not have made producers whole, “but they definitely helped,” said Jeff Mertz, president of the North Dakota Grain Growers.
The new program will provide $14.5 billion in payments to producers. Many major commodities will be covered, including soybeans, wheat, corn, canola and others. Another $1.4 billion will go toward farm purchases of surplus commodities such as fruits, vegetables, beef, pork, poultry and milk for food pantries, school nutrition programs and other organizations. Development of new markets for U.S. agricultural goods will be supported with $100 million from the program.
Farmers have until July 15 to plant and certify their crops with the Farm Service Agency to qualify for payments.
Hoeven said after the meeting that the support shown for the program Wednesday has been shown at similar meetings across the state.
“There are all these trade barriers now and nobody can compete with us if we’re given a fair shot,” Hoeven said. “So we need to knock down these trade barriers and that’s when our guys really do well, and they know they can out-compete anybody, given a fair shot.”
Cattle producers are helped in the package through the surplus purchases and the agriculture trade promotion portion, said Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association. Additional money used for promotion will help tell the story of U.S. beef in foreign markets and create and fortify relationships, and “that’s helpful to us,” she said.
Hoeven told the panel it was important to support farmers while the trade talks continue. He was hopeful one round of assistance would be enough, but after trade deals broke off more assistance was approved.
“Everybody wants better trade deals. We want to knock down those barriers, we want to be able to sell our product, so this is just some assistance to get through until we can get those better trade deals," he said. "And it’s needed, because the Chinese have targeted our farmers and ranchers."