Congressman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma’s 3rd Congressional District provided insight into the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and how it affects farmers and ranchers during a live webinar with Oklahoma Farm Bureau on Wednesday, May 27.
Lucas had an opportunity visit with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Friday, May 22, and he shared several things that he discussed with the secretary. Lucas said he came away encouraged by his conversation with the secretary.
“I have a great deal of confidence in Sec. Perdue,” Lucas said. “He’s a mature, stable, calm individual in a really tough position right now.”
Here are the top takeaways from Lucas’ discussion with OKFB President Rodd Moesel about the CFAP program.
Farmers and ranchers who want to participate in CFAP should act quickly
Lucas encouraged Oklahoma farmers and ranchers who are thinking about participating in the CFAP program to visit with their county FSA staff as soon as possible to begin assembling the necessary information to apply for the program.
Lucas also encouraged producers whose agricultural products may not be covered by CFAP at as high a level as they would like to get into the USDA’s system in case additional money from the Commodity Credit Corporation funds or additional congressional funding become available.
“I would say to my neighbors back home: maybe some of you in certain parts of the state didn’t participate in the drought relief programs in 2014,” Lucas said. “Maybe you haven’t participated in these programs before. Maybe your sector isn’t covered right now under the 5% drop language. You need to talk to your local FSA folks.
“Don’t say ‘This isn’t worth my time.’ You have to go be a part of the process now in the hopes that if, and when, more resources come, you’re in a position to participate.”
Agriculture is fortunate to have received the current level of funding for agriculture support programs
Lucas said he discussed with Sec. Perdue the funding levels for direct support for farmers and ranchers available in the CFAP program.
Lucas said the Trump administration feels like $50 billion is needed to assist production agriculture through the pandemic-related market downturn, but had to take the funding levels passed by Congress, which included $16 billion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, with another $14 billion to become available through the Commodity Credit Corporation after June.
“The secretary needed $50 billion, (Congress) gave him $16 billion,” Lucas said. “He could come up with another $14 billion, but he couldn’t touch it until July. So that basically created the flow of the program we have now.”
In regards to the $250,000 payment limit, Lucas said while he agrees the limit is too low for modern production agriculture, he has direct experience with defending payment limits during his work on the 2014 farm bill.
“I’ve been through enough farm bill wars to know how hard protecting the $125,000 number has been, let alone the secretary using twice that number, $250,000,” Lucas said.
Hard red winter wheat support may not have been part of the initial CFAP program, but there’s room to discuss it for future programs
Many farmers and ranchers were surprised to find that Oklahoma’s most important crop – hard red winter wheat – was not included in the CFAP program when it was announced.
Lucas said he brought up the lack of hard red winter wheat support with Perdue, and the secretary told him that the numbers his economists had presented did not show the necessary price drop to trigger a need for support.
“He said, ‘My economists believe that you weren’t impacted by the necessary 5% drop,’” Lucas said of his conversation with Perdue. “I said, ‘Mr. Secretary, the folks in the wheat industry and the numbers I’ve seen indicated that there was a 17% drop – a relatively brief drop, but 17%.’ His response was, ‘Well, then, you work with your wheat producers and their representatives, you (get) the numbers that justify participation, and bring those to me.’”
Lucas said he is optimistic that Perdue could add hard red winter wheat support if numbers prove the price drop for the commodity was dramatic enough to hit the necessary program trigger.
“I think if we can produce statistics, we have a chance at being addressed in one of these next tranches,” Lucas said. “He didn’t say, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Prove that you qualify.’”
There will be changes coming to address how the United States food and fiber system functions and operates
Lucas also addressed pricing challenges being experienced in the livestock and animal protein sectors, including processing plant closures and the fundamental shift in American food consumption from restaurants to home.
“This has been an awakening, I think, for our fellow Americans,” Lucas said of recent disruptions in the food supply chain. “You might say a sobering experience.”
Lucas said he has filed bills and he is still working on legislation to address issues in the food and fiber system that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lucas identified areas such as the limited number of companies involved in the majority of the U.S. packing operations, foreign ownership of meat packing companies, and ways to help smaller and intermediate meat processors as the places he is looking to address with legislation.
“The biggest challenge is how do we make sure that the little guys, or the intermediate guys, can get access to that USDA-inspected stamp?” Lucas said. “Right now, we have a state inspection program and a federal. State inspection is as good as any federally-inspected stamp. I’m completely confident of that. But the problem is you can’t sell that product across state lines – you need that federal stamp.”
Lucas also said he wants to see the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture serve on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an idea he proposed to Perdue. The committee oversees foreign investment in the nation, and Lucas said food is a matter of national security.
“Food security is just as important as who buys satellite manufacturers or tank builders or bomb or bullet manufactures or software manufacturers,” Lucas said.
There could be more farm support programs yet to come beyond the initial CFAP
Throughout the webinar, Lucas said he believes there will be additional funds available from Congress at some point to help farmers and ranchers, not to mention the $14 billion that will be available from the CCC later in the summer.
“Main bottom line in my discussion with the secretary was: We spent the $16 billion in a way to try and not only maximize the help, but to create a window with the next $14 billion – and if we in Congress step up to the plate with another $20 billion to be able to utilize that, too.”
Lucas also noted that there are more Oklahoma-grown commodities, including rye, peanuts, feed barley, alfalfa and more that could need additional support if a 5% price drop can be proven.