Tester Secures Victories for Montana Ag Producers and Rural Businesses from USDA

Department will set aside FSA loan payments, provide $1 billion in loan guarantees for rural businesses

Continuing his push to provide relief to Montana farmers and ranchers who have been hit hard by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today secured two victories from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help producers build and meet working capital needs during the crisis.

Following pressure led by Tester requesting flexibility for farmers on their loans, the Farm Service Administration (FSA) will set aside producers’ next farm loan payment until the end of the loan term, providing producers flexibility to build capital.

Additionally, Tester secured $1 billion in USDA loan guarantees through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for the Business and Industry Program to help rural businesses meet working capital needs during the outbreak.

“This pandemic has put the hurt on Montana’s farmers and ranchers—who weren’t rolling in dough to begin with—jeopardizing family farms across our state,” said Tester. “I’ve been pushing USDA to make sure folks in family farm agriculture have the working capital to get them to the other side of this pandemic, and I’m glad Secretary Perdue let commonsense win out by deferring farm loan payments. Ag is the backbone of rural America, and I’m going to keep holding Washington accountable to make sure the folks that feed our nation aren’t left behind during this crisis.”

FSA will broaden the use of the Disaster Set-Aside (DSA) loan provision, normally used in the wake of natural disasters, to allow farmers with USDA farm loans who are affected by COVID-19, and are determined eligible, to have their next payment set aside. In some cases, FSA may also set aside a second payment for farmers who have already had one payment set aside because of a prior designated disaster.

The $1 billion for the Business and Industry Program is a part of $20.5 billion in CARES Act funding authority provided to USDA Rural Development aimed at providing relief to rural businesses impacted by the pandemic.

Tester has led the charge to support hard-hit Montana producers. Recently, he announced his Rancher Relief Plan, which is made up of a series of initiatives to help provide certainty to Montana’s small and medium sized cow calf operators. These bipartisan initiatives include:

  1. Increasing interstate commerce and diversifying meat production in Montana and neighboring states;
  2. Legislation to ensure fair prices at the farm gate from large packers;
  3. And the first bipartisan Senate push for mandatory Country of Origin Labeling since Congress repealed it in 2015.

In recent weeks, Tester has led the fight to provide certainty for Montana ranchers in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Late last month, Tester demanded that Attorney General William Barr, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, open an investigation into reports of price fixing in the cattle market in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, after Montana’s ranchers recently saw the steepest price decline for cattle in forty years, Tester pushed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to take immediate action to stabilize beef markets.

Visit tester.senate.gov/coronavirusresources for a list of resources for Montanans during the COVID-19 outbreak.