When Congress passed and the President signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, many small business owners were anxiously awaiting the lifeline the bill would throw out to them in the form of Paycheck Protection Program loans, to help maintain their payroll, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program, to help mitigate disruptions to supply chains and other impacts of COVID-19.
Farms and ranches are businesses, nearly all of them small businesses. But many farmers and ranchers were disappointed to find that the Small Business Administration did not consider agricultural operations eligible for the EIDL. There was also considerable confusion around the country concerning whether farms and ranches were eligible for PPP loans—which is understandable given how quickly the agency had to get these programs up and running.
Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations swung into action—first, to clarify for farmers and ranchers that their businesses were eligible for PPP loans, and second, to correct SBA’s directive on the agency’s website that applicants for EIDL must certify they are “not an agricultural enterprise (e.g., farm), other than an aquaculture enterprise, agricultural cooperative or nursery.” The text of the CARES Act itself did not exclude agriculture producers and stated that all businesses with fewer than 500 employees could participate in the program—and, of course, that’s the vast majority of, if not all, farms.
Farms and ranches are businesses, and more than possibly any other kind of businesses our farms and ranches went into the COVID-19 crisis already limping due to low commodity prices, trade disruptions and weather disasters. If any type of business needed help to weather this latest storm, it was farms and ranches.
Farm Bureau joined 30 other agricultural organizations and businesses in calling on the SBA to include agricultural businesses in the EIDL, writing that not only are farms and ranches businesses, but they’re critical to the nation’s economy and food supply. The SBA responded that Congress needed to make a statutory change, so we turned our attention back to Congress.
In the bill enacted last week to provide more funds for COVID-19 response, which the American Farm Bureau supported, there is language making it crystal clear that farms and ranches are eligible for the EIDL assistance. Farm Bureau weighed in to ensure that bill extended eligibility to farms and ranches with fewer than 500 employees.
These results come on top of our work early on in this crisis to ensure that farm workers entering the country under H-2A visas would continue to be able to come in during this critical time in the growing season. We were able to ensure that H-2A workers were declared essential, at the same time that Farm Bureau organizations around the country have worked to share information with farmer members about how to keep their employees safe.
We’re proud of all the work Farm Bureau has done to help agriculture through this crisis and ensure that farms and ranches are included in the SBA programs. But our work with SBA programs or other COVID-19 response programs isn’t done. AFBF along with 37 other agriculture organizations sent Congress a letter with more specific technical corrections for farmers and ranchers to fully participate in the PPP. We’re also working to remove payment limitations on the agriculture-focused COVID-19 assistance—payment caps that reduce the help for dairy and livestock farmers, who need the help so badly, as well as others. We are working with lawmakers as they craft the next round of COVID-19 aid to come in May. And we’re keeping a very close watch on the impact of processing plant shutdowns and price fluctuations.
Our priority is to make sure we are united in our efforts to meet this crisis and keep our farms growing the food we all need. But I just had to pause and say how proud I am of everyone in Farm Bureau. Now more than ever, we are seeing the wisdom of our founders in creating this organization to fight for America’s farmers and ranchers, and we are seeing that vision become a reality with every accomplishment by our talented staff and dedicated volunteers.
Thank you to everyone who has played a part in sharing information about the needs in farm country, sharing best practices, and sounding the alarm when we need to go to the mat to fight for things such as recognition that farms and ranches are, yes, businesses—and a vital part of our economy.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.