La Crosse, WI—Today, Rep. Ron Kind sent a letter to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to take steps to develop new ways to distribute high-quality food from family farmers to families in need. As demand for food banks rose 70 percent while farmers were forced to dispose of nutritious food, USDA did little to respond to the crisis rapidly.
The letter also calls on him to take steps to ensure that any support programs provide real assistance to small and family farms – not just large agribusinesses. During a 60 Minutes interview over the weekend, Sec. Perdue admitted that USDA’s support packages in recent years have been heavily skewed toward helping large agribusinesses. Meanwhile, family farmers (who are the backbone of Wisconsin’s economy) have largely been left behind.
Wisconsin Governor Evers and his administration have developed new and innovative approaches to connecting producers with either needy families or additional processing capacity following the closure of several large meat processing facilities in the Midwest. In recent weeks, Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) partnered with local organizations to set up the Wisconsin Dairy Recovery Program, as well as the ‘Passion for Pork’ Initiative, to support Wisconsin dairy farmers and pork producers who have been particularly hard hit from COVID-19. Further, a parish in southwest Wisconsin partnered with a local food bank to create ‘Curds for Kids’ to directly connect dairy products with families in need to support their local dairy farmers as well as families facing food insecurity.
“As COVID-19 shutters restaurants and upends traditional food supply chains, we’re witnessing two devastating images that should never happen at the same time: demand surges at food banks while farmers have tragically had to dispose of high-quality food,” said Rep. Ron Kind. “And while I applaud Gov. Evers’ efforts, it’s time for the United States Department of Agriculture to lead on this issue. If we are going to make sure our family farmers don’t disappear forever, Sec. Perdue and his department need to get creative to find new ways to distribute food while also making sure they aren’t just giving agribusinesses a boost.”
Earlier this month, Rep. Ron Kind released his Family Farm Rescue Plan, which focused on five concrete steps that the administration could take to support family farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic, including ensuring farmers are eligible for all small business relief programs like the PPP. He also called for purchasing excess food supply and delivering to food banks, using Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funds to directly support family farms, reopening the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program, and ending the trade war and implementing USMCA. For the past two years, Wisconsin has led the nation in farm bankruptcies with an average of two dairy farms closing a day, and the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to threaten Wisconsin’s already struggling dairy industry.
In his letter to Sec. Perdue, Rep Kind urges the USDA to follow states like Wisconsin’s lead and think creatively to find new ways to distribute food as the traditional pathways are overwhelmed and understaffed. Read the letter here.