Federal government offers help to farmers hit hard by COVID-19
NEPHI, Utah – Farmers and ranchers in Utah struggling during COVID-19 now have a new source of help. The Small Business Administration announced Monday that farm businesses can apply for an economic disaster loan from the SBA, to help stay in business.
Some cattle ranchers and dairy farmers say it could be the difference between closing a family business or surviving the pandemic.
On Monday evening, a large tractor pulling a side-dumping trailer unit slowly rolled down a row between the cattle pens.
The dairy cows were poking their heads out of the pen, quickly munching on the mixture of hay and other nutrients.
It’s part of the daily routine at Cedar Ridge Farms, and that routine has remained largely unaffected by COVID-19.
“These girls don’t really know there is a pandemic, so they work hard every day, as they normally do,” said farm manager Sheila Sherwood.
From feeding to milking, operations continued.
This is what happens after the milk leaves the farm, which is radically different. “The overall price has come down,” Sherwood said of the cost of milk.
Pair the drop in prices with the 50% loss in demand for milk when the restaurant industry practically came to a halt – and it created a huge struggle for dairy farmers.
Sherwood explained that the industry does not necessarily take 50% of the milk in liquid form, but rather uses it for butter, cream, etc.
Cedar Ridge Farms continues to ship their milk daily. They don’t really have a choice. It is not really an option to reduce the feeding of the cows or to milk them. “So far he has found a home,” she said of the milk.
Sometimes that home is the food bank, whether in Utah or Idaho. While giving milk at least means it won’t go to waste, for Sherwood that means there is no pay. “You can only operate at a loss for that long,” she said.
Wade Garrett, vice president of public policy for the Utah Farm Bureau, said they’ve never seen the market crash like this.
As a farmer and rancher himself, he is used to the gamble that can arise from the weather, fluctuating trade agreements and changing consumption habits.
He’s never seen what a global pandemic can do.
“Spin the market almost overnight,” he said.
Garrett, who is a partner to his siblings and father at Garrett Farms, raises cattle and grows hay and alfalfa.
He explained that an interruption in exports means there is nowhere to send his crops. And if dairy farmers or other customers are having a hard time, they don’t buy it either.
Some meat-packing plants have closed due to COVID-19 issues and the restaurant industry has collapsed.
Restaurants normally represent a huge share of the demand for meat in the agricultural industry, and Garrett said restaurants generally accept the more expensive cuts like T-bone and Filet Mignon.
As demand from grocery stores increased, he said it was mostly for cheaper meats like hamburger. And hamburger meat doesn’t fill the vacuum left by restaurants.
Garrett said that means no one is willing to buy their cattle, as all of these factors have created an uncertain future.
COVID-19 has clearly sent a wave through the agriculture industry, with ripples affecting just about everyone.
That’s why he and Sherwood were happy to hear about federal government assistance.
“They released a portion of the SBA that was generally not open to farming,” Garrett said.
He said he needed to review all the details of the economic disaster loan and see if he was eligible to apply. But, he said, any help is welcome.
“A family farm like ours – where I am the 3rd generation and my children are the 4th generation – It can make a difference for us to continue to stay in business and to be a continuing family farm, I hope. , for many generations … or close our doors, ”said Sherwood.
Cedar Ridge Farms was lucky enough to get an SBA loan in the past.
So even though they may not always get paid for their milk, they can keep the daily routine unchanged during COVID-19.
She is still able to pay the employees and feed her cows, until things get back to normal.