By Mike Dorning
The Trump administration would like to make purchases of milk and meat products as part of a $15.5 billion initial aid package to farmers rattled by the coronavirus, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
In a Fox Business interview Wednesday, Perdue said he also wants to include direct financial assistance to farmers in the bailout, which may be announced as soon as this week.
“We want to purchase as much of this milk, or other protein products, hams and pork products, and move them into where they can be utilized in our food banks, or possibly even into international humanitarian aid,” Perdue said.
The closure of restaurants, school cafeterias and other commercial food service operations has upended the market for agricultural products, particularly dairy, meat and produce. Food service is a disproportionate buyer of cheese, butter, meat and fresh fruits and vegetables. Dairy farmers are dumping as much as 8% of their milk, according to the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative.
A shutdown of several slaughterhouses because of virus outbreaks in the facilities has further disrupted hog and cattle farmers’ ability to sell their livestock.
“When you have a slowdown in processing, which we’re working on to sustain as much as possible, then you have a backup in that,” Perdue said.
The secretary said he didn’t expect the shutdowns to cause any shortages of meat products on grocery shelves.
The coronavirus relief bill Congress passed last month includes $23.5 billion in aid for farmers. Speaking at a news conference last week, Trump said his administration will develop a program with at least $16 billion initially for farmers, ranchers and producers.