Tractor working on crops

CASCADE COUNTY - The Coronavirus pandemic has also had a major impact on Montana's farmers and ranchers, as Congress starts looking at a second round of food assistance programs for the industry.

With agriculture affecting many aspects of everyday life, including the food you cook and eat, those in the field met with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Wednesday to share their concerns in the midst of this pandemic.

 “I was glad we were able to have enough conversations to be able to figure out what we should do, because there are huge losses,” said Bill Northey, the USDA under secretary for farm production and conservation.

One concern is the time needed to process carcasses into meat, which for some can last up to three months.

“When we talked to the Montana Meat Process Association, their comment was we can’t get people to work, there’s nobody trained to do this work,” said one man at the roundtable discussion who had concerns around butchering services.

While farmers are doing everything they can to support the industry, they are often forgetting about themselves.

“[The state] is really good at producing ag products. We feed the world, but we found out that in the last two or three months that we’re struggling to feed ourselves, and that’s because of our concentration,” said another named Walter.

Walter, at ag roundtable.

Walter, one of several farmers and ranchers who attended the agriculture roundtable discussion on Wednesday. Photo by Afiq Hisham.

Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) participated in Wednesday’s conversation, and says the feedback gives plenty to consider for that second round of relief money.

“When [the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program] passed in March, it was based on an assumption that [the pandemic] was probably going to be something that was more short-lived, maybe a few months. Clearly it’s going to be lasting much longer than that,” said Daines. 

While there’s no definite date yet on additional relief funds, the USDA encourages people to reach out with their own agricultural issues and worries. You can email them to bill.northey@usda.gov .

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