U.S. Department of Agriculture officials seemed to be caught off guard after President Trump tweeted Friday that the federal government would use tariff revenues to aid farmers if completed trade deals don’t bear fruit.
Just the day prior, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the justification for the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) was market disruption and trade damage. “I am not advising any farmer to expect any market program at this point,” Perdue said, only to see his boss make the tweet less than 24 hours later.
During a trade breakout session Friday afternoon featuring U.S. Department of Agriculture trade undersecretary Ted McKinney and chief agricultural Gregg Doud, McKinney said when someone asked if they knew anything about additional farmer payments, that “Trump’s tweet was news to all of us.”
The news also comes the same week that Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) announced a General Accountability Office (GAO) investigation into the MFP program. Stabenow criticized the MFP 2.0 offered in 2019 disparities to southern producers who received higher per acre amounts.
In a letter sent Friday to Perdue, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson urged the USDA to follow a “public and transparent process.”
“When the first iteration of MFP was announced in the summer of 2018 . . . the USDA did not seek input from the legislative branch and spent approximately $10 billion over the course of six months,” Johnson wrote. This “opaque process” drew widespread criticism, potentially undermining support for future farm bills and agricultural spending.
The first two rounds of MFP were marked not only by the absence of collaboration but also inadequate review and an absence of long-term solutions. “MFP was used as a quick fix, spent $14.5 billion in a matter of months, and did not tackle larger problems in the farm safety net,” said Johnson, adding that the implementation was “rushed” and “seemingly spurred by a similar presidential tweet.”
To ensure that any additional trade assistance is a “sound investment” and “does not erode the underpinnings of future farm policy,” Johnson compelled USDA to work closely with Congress on any future trade assistance packages. “Our members appreciate the much-needed help MFP provided in the last two years, but also know that this program must do better,” the letter reads. “I strongly suggest that USDA work with the House and Senate agriculture committees to convene a joint hearing to receive public comments, explore the present challenges with our export markets, and to consider sound policies for distributing financial assistance.”