ISA Newsroom

Agricultural news farmers want to know.

Pandemic could trigger MFP payments, senator says

Article cover photo
Tim Bardole and other farmers across Iowa are back in the fields while grappling with questions about the financial security of their farms. Senator Ernst held a call with ISA members this week. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer

In a call this week with the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) board of directors, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst said there could be help coming to farmers facing tough markets in the wake of COVID-19. The Republican senator from Iowa said that help could come in the form of another Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payment.

“The last thing we want is another MFP or anything like it, but as COVID-19 has proved, we’re experiencing some new difficulties on top of the old ones,” ISA At-Large Director Brent Renner told the senator.

He noted the downturn in the markets, the struggling world economy which has slowed demand and U.S. exports. He’s heard of lenders in the area speaking of the risk of losing three-fourths of its clientele if an MFP payment doesn’t come through.

“Because we don’t see trade taking off like we thought we would, I think that certainly another round of MFP is warranted,” Ernst said.

She said farmers have been the focus in recent conversations with President Donald Trump, who asks how farmers are faring in the wake of the global pandemic.

Her response: “Not well, not well at all,” she said.

Ernst said she thinks there is a “great possibility” that the situation could warrant another round of MFP payments.

ISA District 4 Director Marty Danzer said a timely decision about implementation of another round of MFP payments would help farmers make marketing decisions this year.

“We forward contract a lot of our grain for fall deliveries,” said Danzer, a grain and livestock farmer near Carroll. “The sooner we know about the status of the MFP payments, the better decisions we can make in marketing our grain.”

Ag support amid a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every sector, and Congress has been focused on legislation to limit the impacts on all sectors of the U.S. economy, Ernst said.

She highlighted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which contains $9.5 billion in assistance for agriculture producers who have been impacted by COVID-19 along with a $14 billion replenishment to the Commodity Credit Corporation. In addition, the legislation includes $100 million in ReConnect grants to expand access to broadband in rural America for educational purposes, business, and access to critical telehealth services.

One highlight of the CARES Act is the Small Business Paycheck Program, which provides small businesses with funds to pay up to 8 weeks of payroll costs including benefits. Funds can also be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.

In an effort to prop up the U.S. economy and expand U.S. exports, Ernst joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers urging U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin to direct the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to defer all tariffs for at least 90 days, or until the COVID-19 crisis passes.

That could offer relief amid the global pandemic, she said.

“The world needs our food,” Ernst said. “We just need to make sure there’s a way to get into those markets.”

Farmer focus

Farmers expressed their concerns about the effects of the pandemic.

“It’s been a tough couple years on farmers to begin with, considering all the other trade and weather issues we’ve had,” said Renner, who farms near Klemme. “Couple that with this pandemic and the global ramifications on the economy we depend on to sell our products and there’s just a lot of uncertainty.”

Renner said he’s focused on what he can control.

“I think most of us are trying to maintain whatever sense of normalcy we can during so much uncertainty,” he said.

For him and others, that means hitting the fields for planting.

“We’re going to go get it done and hope some of these issues resolve themselves by the time it’s fall and we’re ready to go out and harvest,” he said. “That’s all we can do I think.”

ISA President Tim Bardole wonders if there’s light at the end of this tunnel of seemingly endless challenges for his multi-generation farm and many others.

“Can you give us any hope?” the Rippey-area farmer asked Ernst.

“People have to have fuel, people have to have food and people have to have clothing,” Ernst said. “While it’s dark now, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there. If there’s one tough son-of-a-gun, it’s the American farmer.”

Contact Bethany Baratta at bbaratta@iasoybeans.com.

For media inquiries, permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at kjames@iasoybeans.com. © 2020 Iowa Soybean Association. All rights reserved.