The United States Department of Agriculture has announced the details of a coronavirus aid package for farmers and ranchers. The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program includes $16 billion in direct support to farmers and ranchers and $3 billion to purchase fresh produce, dairy and meat for food banks. Direct assistance for farmers and ranchers includes $9.6 billion for the livestock industry, $3.9 billion for row crop producers, $2.1 billion for specialty crop producers and $500 million for other crops. Farmers will receive a single payment using two calculations. For price losses from Jan. 1 through April 15, producers will be paid for 85% of the price loss. The second part of the payment are expected losses from April 15 through the next two quarters, covering 30% of expected losses. The payment limit is $125,000 per commodity with an overall limit of $250,000 per individual or entity. To qualify for the program, commodities must have experienced a 5% price decrease between January and April.

More dairy assistance needed
    The National Milk Producers Federation is voicing appreciation to USDA for including dairy in the coronavirus economic stimulus package. NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern said this plan will provide important relief to dairy farmers. At the same time, Mulhern said the dairy industry will need more help to stop the deep losses in the dairy industry. “After five years of poor prices, many producers faced financial difficulties even before the coronavirus crisis,” Mulhern said. “Without more aid, this crisis could be their demise.”

A decline expected for U.S. dairy exports
    U.S. Dairy Export Council President and CEO Tom Vilsack said the coronavirus pandemic is a gut punch for commodity prices across the board, especially for the U.S. dairy industry. At the beginning of 2020, there was momentum in dairy exports. “Our February numbers showed that dairy was exporting at a rate better than last year, but we fully anticipate because of the virus, there will be a decline going forward,” Vilsack said. “I also want to emphasize the fact that we have products. Cows don’t know there’s a virus, and they’re continuing to produce milk. Farmers are continuing to work 24 hours each day, seven days a week to produce milk. There are processing plants making the ingredients, cheese, milk and other products. There’s no need for retailers to restrict the amount of milk being purchased by consumers nor is there any reason for people on the export side to believe any order they need can’t be filled by the U.S. dairy industry. We’re going to look for creative ways to get as much U.S. product to as many people around the world as possible.”

USDA adjustments for dumped milk
    The Risk Management Agency will not penalize dairy farmers if their milk is dumped due to recent market disruptions. The milk will count as actual marketings for the Dairy Revenue Production program or the Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy program. The closure of schools and restaurants destroyed demand for milk and dairy products at a time many processing plants are operating at full capacity.

Federal COVID-19 resource released
    USDA released a COVID-19 Federal Rural Resource Guide. This first-of-its-kind resource for rural leaders outlines federal funding and partnership opportunities to address the pandemic. The guide is available at http://www.usda.gov/coronavrius.

Dairy farmers feed the hungry
    Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture are partnering with the state’s hunger task force to create the Wisconsin Dairy Recovery Program. This effort will commit up to $1 million to provide milk and dairy products to food banks and food pantries throughout the state.

Temporary adjustments made to H-2A visa requirements
    The United States Department of Homeland Security is adjusting H-2A visa requirements during the coronavirus. A new, temporary rule will allow an H-2A petitioner with a valid labor certification to employ workers currently in the H-2A status. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services must receive the H-2A petition before workers are hired. The agency will also allow H-2A workers to stay in the United States beyond a three-year limit. According to the USDA, agricultural employers should use this process if they are concerned with their ability to bring in temporary workers due to travel restrictions.

Practicing emotional resilience during COVID-19
    The current reality of the coronavirus is impacting everyone differently. Some are moving forward with business as usual and others are feeling overwhelmed. According to Monica McConkey, a rural mental health specialist with Eyes on the Horizon Consulting, emotional resilience is key right now. “We are always experiencing uncertainty, unknowns and uncontrollables. This COVID-19 time has added an aspect to that, but I think we as an agricultural community are pretty darn resilient in getting through times of stress,” McConkey said. “The goal is how do we come out stronger? How do we go through it better? How do we grow? How do we maintain relationships? It’s about the process.” McConkey said you do not have to come out of this time having accomplished major goals. “Many of us are in situations right now where we are just focusing on feeding our families, taking care of them, running our farms and keeping life going. Other things in our life are on pause right now and that’s OK,” she said. “Sometimes mental resilience is getting through the day and meeting your goals for basic needs.”

Cheese auction goes online
    The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association 2020 CheeseExpo was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, but the championship cheese auction will continue. The annual sale will take place online. Proceeds of the sale go to support scholarships.

Wisconsin FFA convention will look different in 2020
    The Wisconsin State FFA Convention will be held virtually or at a new location in August. The convention was originally scheduled for June 15-18 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. With the coronavirus pandemic, the decision was made for the safety and health of the FFA members and supporters.

Trivia challenge
    The United States produces the most milk in the world. India is ranked second for milk production. That answers our last trivia question. Up until April 1997, cheese was bought and sold on the National Cheese Exchange. For this week, where was the NCE located? We will have the answer in the next edition of Dairy Star.
    Don Wick is owner/broadcaster for the Red River Farm Network, based in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Wick has been recognized as the National Farm Broadcaster of the Year and served as president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. Don and his wife, Kolleen, have two adult sons, Tony and Sam, and five grandchildren, Aiden, Piper, Adrienne, Aurora and Sterling.