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Assistance for local farmers better organized this time

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The federal government rolled out programs to help agricultural producers during the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it will use about $16 billion from the CARES Act to directly support farmers.

But navigating new rules is challenging with many federal initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program.

“By the time everybody got up to speed, the bucket was empty,” said Jeff Witte, Cabinet secretary of New Mexico’s Department of Agriculture. “But we’re seeing more success in the second round.”

Some industries, like dairy, have recovered slightly from the initial shock of the virus. But processes can’t change overnight.

“Our state and national food infrastructure just isn’t set up for a pandemic of this size,” Witte said.

The New Mexico Farmers Market Association set up a grant fund to help local farmers who had lost business as farmers’ markets were postponed and demand from restaurants and schools dropped. The organization had $110,000 to award in individual and collaborative grants.

Co-founder Sarah Grant said they were unprepared for the massive response. About 120 individual farmers applied, and nearly 20 collaborative groups sought funding. The group hopes to receive more funding to open up another round of grants.

“Farmers have a lot of product with no place for it to go,” Grant said. “Many will use the money to buy more PPE, or to boost their Community Supported Agriculture delivery programs.”

Meanwhile, the New Mexico Farmers Market Association partnered with the New Mexico Acequia Association and New Mexico First to organize bulk seed orders for small farms that hadn’t yet purchased seeds for their late spring and summer planting.

“When people got panicky and started hoarding food, they also hoarded seeds, and the seed companies are still trying to keep up with those purchases,” Grant said. “We had 80 farmers ask for seed. Some will also use their grant money to buy seeds.”

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