WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the coronavirus pandemic threatening Wisconsin’s agriculture economy, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today led seven bipartisan members of the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation in calling on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue to take immediate action on behalf of Wisconsin dairy farmers and dairy processing businesses during this crisis.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this week, Wisconsin dairy farmers have been forced to dispose of thousands of gallons of fresh milk a day as the demand for dairy products used in schools, restaurants and food service has rapidly switched to almost entirely at-home consumption due to the ongoing pandemic. This puts an enormous economic strain on all parts of the dairy industry, from farms to processing plants to warehouses. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, markets had been difficult for farmers and Wisconsin had already lost more than 2,000 dairy farms since early 2017.
The members in their letter write, “Wisconsin’s dairy and agriculture economy is in crisis, and we write to ask for your immediate attention and aid. Supply chain disruptions are cascading through communities across the state, putting dairy farmers and dairy processors at immediate risk of layoffs and closure. Our dairy industry was already in a precarious situation after several challenging years and uncertainty in dairy markets. Coronavirus-related changes in consumer purchasing have caused rapid shifts in demand. While these changes in consumer demand are temporary, without immediate action, they could have a permanent effect in causing the closure of hundreds and possibly thousands of farms, rural businesses, and food processors. Wisconsin needs your help.”
Specifically, Baldwin and members of the delegation are asking Secretary Perdue to commit to taking the following steps to support dairy farmers and businesses during this crisis:
- Take actions to move cheese and dairy products from Wisconsin plants to consumers using several tools that Congress has provided USDA to help respond to times of crisis, including providing $450 million in the CARES Act to purchase agriculture products and distribute them to food pantries through the Emergency Food Assistance Program. Congress included funding in the CARES Act that enables the USDA to make purchases of agricultural products during times of economic distress.
- Provide funding to states to help them resolve supply chain disruptions and keep agricultural products and food moving as it should in order to reach consumers when and where they need it.
- Reopen enrollment for the Dairy Margin Coverage program and make payments retroactive to the beginning of the year. Reopening enrollment in the program could effectively utilize existing USDA authorities to efficiently distribute funds from the $23.5 billion provided in the CARES Act.
The letter was led by Senator Baldwin and also signed by Senator Ron Johnson and Representatives Mike Gallagher, Glenn Grothman, Ron Kind, Gwen Moore, Mark Pocan and Bryan Steil.
The full letter to USDA is available here.
An online version of this release is available here.