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Lawmakers look at federal relief fund allocation for Utah hurting agricultural sector

Lawmakers look at federal relief fund allocation for Utah hurting agricultural sector

(Kristin Murphy, KSL, File)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Representatives from Utah’s agriculture sectors informed lawmakers about COVID-19’s impact on their respective industries Tuesday morning, also relaying some of the complications that have arisen in the application process for federal relief funding grants intended for struggling farmers and ranchers.

Utah agriculture leaders met virtually with the members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee to present how their industries are faring amid the coronavirus pandemic as well as update lawmakers on distribution of the federal relief money’s progress — a process that has encountered a few snags, according to officials.

“For the most part farmers and ranchers are wonderful to work with and have been so supportive of trying to get this money, saying that without this they may go under,” said R.J. Spencer, deputy division director of conservation for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. “We are trying our best to give that to them and at this point we’ve only dedicated $1.6 million so far, that’s 7% of what we have. There is still funding available.”

The federal relief funding — headed by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, and issued by the Utah Conservation Commission — allows farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic to apply for up to $40,000 in grants. While total funding for the Utah branch of the program is capped at $20 million, requests have already outstripped this sum.

Spencer said the commission has received 1,389 applications so far, 82 of which have been approved for funding as of Tuesday. Total requests for grant money equals about $44 million.

The grant program’s purpose is to assist farms and ranches in overcoming the financial harm of the pandemic, continue food and fiber production in the state, and maintain the agricultural operation’s supply chains and products delivery to markets.

Representatives from the pork, cattle, egg, wool and other industries said they’ve all been impacted in some way. Examples of this include the price of pork and beef dropping dramatically due to disruption in demand from shuttered restaurants, the cutting off of exports resulting in an oversupply of products, and a clog in the pipeline to move livestock to processing plants.

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Officials said agriculture producers’ need for relief aid shows in the volume of requests for grants. The number of applicants is anticipated to rise, too, as cow calf operators begin marketing their crop of calves for the year and start experiencing documentable losses.

According to Spencer, the application process for the federal grants started out quite broad but has been refined as the process has moved forward to address solely agriculture producers’ current losses. The original process also asked about future and potential loss.

Logan Wilde, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Food, said staff have had to follow up with a number of applicants to have an ongoing conversation. He recalled receiving many requests where agricultural producers didn’t elaborate on how much loss they’ve incurred — vital information to determining grant amounts.

“Instead of just denying these people we are going back out and having to reach out to them, call them, email them, try to track them down and find out what their actual losses are,” he said, pointing out that this takes time.


Instead of just denying these people we are going back out and having to reach out to them ... try to track them down and find out what their actual losses are.

–Logan Wilde, Department of Agriculture and Food


Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, said the Department of Agriculture has moved slowly to protect producers — that way applicants won’t have to pay back funds for applying for potential losses that don’t come to fruition.

Sandall said it would be challenging to allocate funds based off of anticipated future losses because the situation is ever-evolving. He suggested the Legislature may be able to allocate another set of funding in addition to the $20 million available, if need be.

“Get your producers, track their actual losses when they sell something compared to what it was pre-COVID, and let’s work on seeing if we can’t try to make as many people whole as we can even if we have to try to access more than the $20 million,” Sandall said. “Let’s make sure they are actual losses and we don’t have to pay back.”

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