A cow walks into the milking area at a dairy farm in Adams. Watertown Daily Times

As U.S. farm bankruptcies reach an all-time high and farmers struggle to survive through the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand urged federal officials Wednesday to make changes to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to ensure small farms receive adequate relief.

Gillibrand, D-N.Y., sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday demanding benefits from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which the secretary launched this spring at the height of the pandemic in New York, be equally distributed to farms nationwide of all sizes — not just large, industrial operations.

CFAP was implemented to provide direct payments to farmers of all sizes who faced price declines and additional marketing costs due to COVID-19, and to give their production a lifeline, Perdue said in April. The deadline for farmers to apply is Sept. 11.

“A recent report makes it clear that has not been the case at all,” Gillibrand said, citing an NBC news report. “The program has favored large, industrial farms over smaller, more diversified ones.”

An Iowa hog operation received more than $2.5 million from the program, the senator said, while 2,300 other agricultural partners received about $250,000.

Under the program, about 7,000 farmers received less than $200, with some receiving a benefit less than $20.

“The lowest payout was just 7 cents,” Gillibrand said, adding much of CFAP funding was going to larger-scale, foreign-owned farmers.

“That’s not a program that’s interested in providing a lifeline to farmers of all sizes,” she said. “...This disparity in CFAP relief is unacceptable and unfair. Small farms are getting some of the lowest payouts. They’re being forced to pay crop by crop.”

Gillibrand requested Perdue find more information about CFAP and to set aside 50 percent of the fund for small-scale farms, ensuring relief formula calculations are based on revenue loss regardless of the size of the operation.

About 30,000 American farmers play a critical role in the nation’s food supply, Gillibrand said, adding schools and restaurants have had to cut back on food orders.

Small farms account for roughly 91 percent of the nation’s agricultural operations. The top 20 percent of farms received about 70 percent of the nation’s market facilitation payments since 2018, she said.

Small farms were in crisis before the pandemic began. The U.S. lost just under 6,000 farms from 2018 to 2019, Gillibrand said.

“Farmers have been left with no choice but to plow under crops or give products away,” Gillibrand said. “These farms are essential to our health and our communities providing jobs, food and economic opportunity. In this time of national crisis, we must support the agricultural industry nationwide and not just the businesses that dominate this sector.”

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