Small farms get most of first round of COVID-19 aid; 2nd round planned

    Wisconsin farm cornfield and landscape -- Image by David Mark free use from Pixabay
    Wisconsin farm cornfield and landscape -- Image by David Mark free use from Pixabay

    Nearly 12,000 Wisconsin farmers shared in the first round of aid from a special state program to support farmers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials said Monday.

    So far $41.6 million has been distributed to 11,884 farms from the $50 million program, funded from the state’s allotment under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relieve and Economic Security (CARES) Act. To qualify, applicants were required to report gross income from farming of at least $35,000 and up to $5 million.

    With $8.4 million remaining, another round of funding is now available. Farmers can apply for it beginning Aug. 10. 

    “Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin farmers have never stopped working to ensure that folks have food on their tables and shelves in stores are stocked,” Gov. Evers said in a statement announcing the funds. “I know this won’t cover all the impacts our farmers have faced, but farmers have always had our back and we have to have theirs, and I’m proud of the work that DOR and DATCP” — the state Department of Revenue and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection — “have done to support them during this challenging time.”

    Recipients received $3,500 each to offset economic losses during the pandemic.

    Wisconsin COVID-19 Farm Support, as of 7/27/2020

    Income RangeNumber of ApplicantsPercentage of Approved Applicants
    $35,000-$100,0003,229
    27.2%
    $100,001-$250,0003,61230.4%
    $250,001-$500,0002,33319.6%
    $500,001-$750,0009778.2%
    $750,001-$1,000,000


    4774.0%
    $1,000,001-$2,000,0007756.5%
    $2,000,001-$3,000,0002602.2%
    $3,000,001-$4,000,0001491.3%
    $4,000,001-$5,000,000

    72

    0.6%
    More than half of recipients of the first $41.6 million awarded to help farms offset expenses from the COVID-19 pandemic went to farms with incomes of $100,000 or less.
    (Source: Wis. Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and Wis. Dept. of Revenue)
      More than half the recipients in the first round had farming incomes under $100,000, and fully 77% — more than three out of four — has farming incomes under $500,000, state officials reported, according to data from the DOR and DATCP.

    A new round of applications for the remaining $8.4 million will be accepted through Aug. 24, this time with a lower threshold for applicants of $10,000 gross income from farming. Randy Romanski, secretary-designee for DATCP, stated that “we’ve identified an opportunity to expand the eligibility for this program.”

    The lower threshold has been a priority for a coalition of groups that includes the Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) along with local food networks and smaller-scale farming operations. In a May 8 letter to Romanski, the group urged the Evers administration to prioritize “farms with less than $75,000 in gross farm revenues, and in particular, farms with less than $35,000 in gross farm revenues” in a COVID-related farm assistance program.

    “Farmers throughout Wisconsin are facing unique challenges that have arisen around COVID-19,” WFU President Darin Von Ruden stated Monday upon the announcement of the first round of grants. “It’s critical that this state aid remain targeted at small and mid-sized farmers, who are less likely to be able to tap into [other] federal COVID-19 response programs…”

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.