State Awaits Details On Federal Farm Aid Available In Wake Of International Trade Disputes

Jul 26, 2018

On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced a $12 billion aid package for farmers hurt by the administration's trade policy. But details on the plan remain scarce, and Vermont officials are waiting to see what impact it will have on the state's agriculture sector.

The aid package comes as trade disputes with China, Canada and other countries have made it more difficult for American farmers to access export markets.

Alyson Eastman, the deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, said the dispute with China has been particularly hard on the state's dairy industry. Eastman provided data from Food Export-Northeast that states China was Vermont's second-largest trading partner after Canada last year, but that the state's exports to China are down 23 percent this year.

"In China the duty on whey was 2 percent, and now it's 27 percent," Eastman said. "And the duty on fresh cheese was 12 percent, and now it's 37 percent."

Slumping milk prices as a result of tariffs are expected to cost Vermont dairy farmers close to $15 million during the second half of 2018, according to Eastman.

The federal aid — which will consist of direct payments, government purchases of excess crops and assistance in developing new markets — is aimed primarily at boosting commodity crops such as soybeans, sorghum, wheat, cotton, hogs and dairy.

But while the U.S. Department of Agriculture said dairy farmers will be eligible for direct payments, it is unclear how much aid will end up in Vermont.

For now, Eastman said her agency is focused on communicating with the USDA and with Vermont's congressional delegation to make sure the state's interests are heard.