John M. Urbanchuk, Assistant Professor and Chair, Agribusiness
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has reinforced the importance of agriculture for American consumers who have heretofore taken for granted the abundance and availability of relatively cheap food. The supply of food for Americans remains high. Most of the impact on consumers has been the result of problems with logistics and distribution – the much talked about supply chain.
To date production agriculture has been less affected by coronavirus than most other sectors of the economy. However, strains are becoming evident, particularly in livestock, poultry, and specialty products such as fruits and vegetables where labor is a major production input. The availability of labor, particularly temporary nonimmigrant agricultural workers, and the impacts of quarantines and social distancing are beginning to affect farms, ranches and processing industries such as meat packing and poultry processing. The impact of coronavirus on global trade will also have an adverse impact on American agriculture since exports account for about a third of farm income. As is the case in other industry sectors, small farmers and ranchers – many of whom are family owned operations – are most significantly at risk.
The President has signed into law H.R. 748, The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 (CARES Act of 2020). This unprecedented legislation will provide $2 trillion of emergency relief to businesses and individuals who have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. As part of the legislation the USDA will receive significant funding for a wide range of programs including food nutrition and assistance programs, rural development programs aimed at distance learning, telemedicine and broadband, and commodity assistance to farmers and ranchers. Chief among these is $14 billion to reimburse net realized losses for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and $9.5 billion is separate funding to provide financial help for livestock, dairy and specialty crops producers.
What is the CCC and how will additional emergency funding help farmers and ranchers? The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) is a wholly owned Government corporation within the USDA and was created as part of the first Farm Bill (Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933). The CCC serves as a mandatory funding mechanism for agricultural programs provided by omnibus farm bills. The principal agricultural programs funded by CCC include domestic farm income, price support and conservation programs provided in the current Farm Bill; foreign market development programs provided by the Agricultural Trade Act of 1978; and Food for Peace activities of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  CCC funds come from several sources including capital stock of $100 million, borrowings, appropriations from Congress and earnings. CCC has the authority to borrow up to $30 billion at any one time. Unreimbursed net losses impede the ability of the CCC to fully fund programs.
The role of the CCC has evolved as the structure of farm programs has changed over time. The most significant change in farm policy occurred with the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill). The 2014 Farm Bill eliminated direct income and price support programs for major program commodities and instituted risk management programs to enable farmers to take direct responsibility for managing production and price risk. These programs were continued in the current 2018 Farm Bill (Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018).
In the area of commodities these programs include Agricultural Risk Coverage/Price Loss Coverage (ARC/PLC) available for major program crops; Marketing Assistance Loans available to producers when market prices fall below statutory loan rates; Dairy Margin Coverage and Dairy Indemnification Payment programs. The CCC also funds important emergency assistance programs for livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish. The $9.5 billion in separate funding for livestock, dairy, and specialty crop producers as well as producers supplying local food systems will provide significant financial assistance to producers impacted by coronavirus. These funds are likely to be delivered through existing CCC programs.
Emergency funding for agriculture in the CARE Act of 2020 will significantly enhance the ability of the Secretary of Agriculture to provide emergency financial assistance to farmers and ranchers adversely affected by coronavirus. This may take the form of relief for the farmer share of premiums for ARC/PLC insurance policies; increased availability of Marketing Assistance Loans; and increased funding for emergency assistance to livestock and dairy producers and specialty crops, along with other producers supplying local food systems such as farmers markets, restaurants and schools.
For more information see “The Commodity Credit Corporation: In Brief” Congressional Research Service. Updated September 4, 2019 and the USDA Fact Sheet on the CCC at https://www.usda.gov/ccc