Over the past several weeks, many of us have noticed some of our favorite foods missing or in short supply at grocery stores and have even seen signs posted limiting the number of certain items customers may purchase.
In most cases, food shortages are not because of a lack of supply, but rather a result of over shopping and other disruptions to the supply chain such as the case at processing facilities where illness among employees and inspectors has caused closures and delays.
Because of these factors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers and ranchers have been greatly impacted. They have been confronted with supply chain breakdowns that have prevented them from getting their crops to market and faced a number of other challenges including a late freeze in western Colorado with devastating impacts.
To survive and continue to feed Coloradans and Americans, these impacted producers are going to need help. That is why I’m working to support our country’s agricultural communities at the federal level through legislation and regulatory reforms that will immediately provide relief and help stabilize the U.S. food supply chain by allowing greater flexibility to get their crops to market.
I voted in support of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program as part of the CARES Act, which will provide direct payments to farmer and ranchers hurt by COVID-19, as well as allow the federal government to purchase food to support food-insecure families by stocking food pantries across the country. The CFAP makes available $16 billion for direct financial relief and $3 billion in purchasing power for fresh produce, dairy and meat as part of the Farmers to Families Food Box program.
Over the past few weeks, I have hosted regular teleconferences with farmers and ranchers in our district and continue to receive feedback about how the programs in the CARES Act are providing much-needed relief.
Additionally, I have supported more localized efforts to protect farmers from unexpected losses as a result of this year’s historic freeze on the Western Slope, which resulted in an expected near total crop loss of the famous Palisade peaches. The challenges already presented by COVID-19 have been worsened by this unfortunate weather phenomenon, which is why I urged the Trump administration to take immediate action and declare the Western Slope a disaster zone, to make available additional resources for local farmers and ranchers through FEMA.
Without these types of actions to support farmers and ranchers, it is likely that a significant portion of this nearly $50 million dollar a year industry may be forced to shut down operations altogether. This would have a staggering impact on the food supply and severe ripple effects on the rest of the state economy. We must continue to work at the local, state and federal levels to ensure farmers, like other impacted small businesses in our communities, have access to immediate and temporary assistance that will help them through these troubling times.
To address another severe disruption in the supply chain, I also have been working to give ranchers more direct access to the national commercial grocery market. Ranchers who want to sell their meat and poultry products in the national commercial market must have their products processed at USDA-regulated facilities, which are often located far from their ranches. COVID-19 outbreaks within processing facilities and among USDA inspectors have either halted or severely hampered processing and packing, which is leading to fewer options in grocery stores and nowhere for producers to send their crops for processing.
I recently wrote to the USDA requesting that it use its regulatory tools to allow state-regulated processing facilities to help more producers bring their products to the commercial market. I also recently co-sponsored the PRIME Act, which would allow individuals who have typically custom-processed their meat and poultry for personal use to sell those products commercially if they are processed at a state-regulated facility.
A combination of regulatory changes enacted by the Trump administration and congressional efforts can improve the situation to maintain a stable food supply while ensuring the safety and quality of those products remains high.
Through a combination of swift federal, state and local response efforts and collaboration, as a country we have been able to so far navigate through what has been a period of great uncertainty and rise to the challenge of supporting our communities.
We are not out of the woods yet, but we are making progress to ensure families and businesses have the resources they need to survive and get back on their feet as communities reopen, including our farmers and ranchers who continue to feed our nation even in the middle of a crisis.
Scott Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, represents Colorado’s 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is running for reelection this year.