In Wisconsin, Trump announces $17 billion in farm aid

MOSINEE, WISCONSIN (REUTERS) – US President Donald Trump announced a new round of pandemic assistance to farmers of about US$13 billion (S$17.64 billion) at a campaign rally in Wisconsin on Thursday night (Sept 17), delivering aid to an important sector in a crucial battleground state.

“Starting next week my administration is committing an additional … US$13 billion in relief to help farmers recover from the China virus, including Wisconsin’s incredible dairy, cranberry and ginseng farmers who got hurt badly,” Mr Trump said, referring to the Covid-19 virus.

Wisconsin is known for its milk and cheese industries, which have been hard hit by both the White House’s trade policies and the Covid-19 pandemic – but the amount of assistance to farmers weeks before the vote was unexpected.

Mr Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin in 2016 by less than 1 per cent of the vote – and marked the first time the state had voted for a Republican in a presidential election since 1984.

Mr Trump’s spoke in Mosinee, a rural town in central part of the state, came as state officials reported 2,034 new Covid-19 cases, a record one-day increase.

The new aid programme – which the agriculture department is expected to release details about on Friday – is tapping into the US$14 billion in additional Commodity Credit Corporation funds that Congress agreed to prepay as part of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (Cares) Act, according to four sources familiar with the matter. 

Farmers are expected to be allowed to start applying for the new programme on Monday, the sources said. 

How much certain crops will receive is not known, but the programme is set to make direct payments to producers of meat, dairy, grain, vegetables and other products, the sources said. 

The payments will be designed similarly to an earlier aid package: calculated based on yields of crops and the impact the coronavirus pandemic had on the price of the commodities.

Mr Trump in April announced a US$19 billion relief programme to help US farmers cope with the impact of the coronavirus, including US$16 billion in direct payments to producers and mass purchases of meat, dairy, vegetables and other products.

That came on the heels of US$28 billion in trade aid given to the farm sector over 2018 and 2019.

A government watchdog agency said on Monday the 2019 aid favoured farmers from the US South-east, primarily those growing crops like cotton or sorghum, over those in other parts of the country.

China’s demand for US corn and soybeans has been unrelenting in recent weeks, and it is importing more meat amid a potential food supply gap.

The flurry of export sales, along with extreme weather and sprawling drought across the US Midwest this summer, has sent soybean prices to the highest seen in two years.

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