JAMESTOWN, N.D. (NDFU) – North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) praised provisions that support family farmers and ranchers in the “Phase III” COVID-19 legislation passed by the U.S. Senate late last night.

“We have been pushing for continued and additional aid due to the extreme financial difficulties farmers and ranchers are under,” said NDFU President Mark Watne.

The legislation includes $14 billion to reimburse the Commodity Credit Corporation, which has been used to fund the Market Facilitation Program in recent years. It also provides an additional $9.5 billion to support livestock, dairy and specialty crop producers and local food systems.

“Our farmers and ranchers are feeling the economic impact from the pandemic, continued trade issues and low market prices,” said Watne. “We’re particularly grateful to Sen. Hoeven’s responsiveness to our concerns and for leading efforts to secure critical funding to support our producers.”

The legislation will set the stage for a new program to offset livestock producers’ losses. Since Jan. 23, live cattle prices have dropped by roughly $30 per hundredweight, despite strong beef demand at grocery stores, Watne said.

“Live cattle prices have fallen off the cliff and it’s been devastating to our ranchers,” Watne said. “We also need the Department of Justice to investigate price fixing by meatpackers, and why live cattle prices are falling when boxed beef prices are climbing. Market manipulation can’t go unchecked.”

Watne noted the trade war will continue to have long-term impacts to markets, especially with surplus grains already in storage. “It will take a few years to sort out the extra supply,” he said.

The legislation will now move to the House of Representatives before ultimately making its way to the President’s desk. “Once a final package is signed into law, we hope USDA will craft programs that provide fair and equitable relief, and the funding will be enough to keep producers afloat,” Watne said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”