HELENA — Leaders in the agriculture industry say Montana farmers and ranchers will see significant benefits from the COVID-19 relief and spending package that Congress approved Monday.
The Montana Farm Bureau Federation estimates $13 billion from the stimulus package will directly support agriculture. They identified a number of specific provisions that will be boosts for Montana growers:
· New assistance for growers of specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables
· Payments of $20 per acre for crops like wheat and barley
· Grants for small meat and poultry processors to upgrade their operations
MFBF executive vice president John Youngberg said they are also pleased about a $300 million investment in rural broadband. He said internet service has become increasingly important for farmers and ranchers, for everything from marketing to planting data, and that federal spending could help cover the “last mile” necessary to bring broadband to their properties.
“It might be down the county road, but it’s not at the last mile up to your house,” Youngberg said. “And that’s expensive stuff, because there isn’t a lot of people to pay for it.”
The Farm Bureau also highlighted the approval of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact as part of the package. Youngberg said the compact would create more certainty for agricultural water users in Montana.
Youngberg said this legislation will help farmers and ranchers now, but that, in the long term, the most important thing will be encouraging demand for their products.
“Rather than take a package like this, we’d rather have the markets available, and so the hurdle is to maintain the trade that we’re looking at now and expanding trade opportunities for farmers and ranchers,” he said. “We produce far more than we can consume, so what’s going to drive our price is demand.”