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Bipartisan bill aims to protect agriculture industry, food supply chain

Cows feeding on Paul Lippert's farm in Wood County. (WSAW photo 5/20/20)
Cows feeding on Paul Lippert's farm in Wood County. (WSAW photo 5/20/20)(WSAW)
Published: May. 20, 2020 at 10:22 PM CDT
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Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin hopes that a new bipartisan bill introduced in the United States Senate Wednesday will help states deal with the issues the COVID-19 pandemic has caused for the agriculture and food supply chains.

“We need new creative tools to respond to these supply chain issues,” the Democratic senator from Wisconsin said. “We have product on farms being plowed under; dumped; disposed of; herds being culled. At the same time, we have grocery store shelves that are emptying out and food banks that are in desperate need. That should never be the case and so this particular focus on the supply chain and keeping it moving is just critical.”

The bill, Farming Support to States Act, was introduced by Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), and Angus King (I-ME). It would provide $1-billion for food and agriculture need to state.

Bipartisan companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD).

“What’s really, particularly important is just how flexible these dollars are,” explained Sen. Baldwin. “Different states are going to have different needs. We have different types of agriculture practiced in all 50 states.”

Sen. Baldwin says the goal of this bill isn’t to take the place of other relief programs currently in place for farmers and small businesses, but to provide more specific support for areas hit hard by COVID-19.

The funds would be able to be requested by a Governor or State Department of Agriculture.

The state relief would the shifting regional and sector-specific issues in the industry, something that Wood County dairy farmer Paul Lippert says could make a positive change.

“Stuff that ties us over just when things are bad doesn’t really solve any type of long term problem,” Lippert said. “I think this bill is more geared towards helping that infrastructure be more resilient and it’s sometimes more localized so that if you have a problem here, you don’t have a problem everywhere.”

Lippert says his farm in Pittsville has been lucky enough to make it to this point without having to take some of the drastic measures other farmers around the country have been faced with, adding that it’s good to see a bipartisan program aimed at helping agriculture as a whole.

“Bipartisanship in this day in age is always a good thing no matter what we’re talking about,” said Lippert. “I don’t view this bill as being as much about farmers themselves as it just being about food supply in this country. Without U.S. consumers, I don’t have a job. We need them to feel confident in our food supply, and there’s a lot of people between us and the farm and the consumer and the grocery store. There's a lot of infrastructures there and we need to keep that infrastructure safe.”

Senator Baldwin says that because the bill has been introduced in both the House and the Senate, the plan is to push for outright passage on its own.

She added that should the new Coronavirus Relief Package being worked on right now move first, it’s possible the Farming Support to States Act could be attached so that it can move forward faster.