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$20 million available for Utah’s ranchers and farmers hit by coronavirus

Money would help offset financial losses

Ray Hancock, Joe Myers and Cindy Hancock move a ramp after using it to unload cattle from a truck for Myers Ranch and Hancock Farms in the Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area on Monday, April 27, 2020.
Ray Hancock, Joe Myers and Cindy Hancock move a ramp after using it to unload cattle from a truck for Myers Ranch and Hancock Farms in the Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area on Monday, April 27, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Struggling farmers and ranchers in Utah impacted by the coronavirus pandemic can apply for up to $40,000 in grants from the Utah Conservation Commission as part of federal relief funding headed under the CARES Act.

The total funding for the program in Utah is capped at $20 million, and the program will start awarding the grants once the money is received from the federal government.

“This is a critical relief program for the many farms and ranches in Utah on the brink of going out of business during this crisis as prices for many commodities have dropped drastically and many distribution outlets have been greatly reduced,” said Logan Wilde, commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

According to Wilde, the commission may make a grant of up to $40,000 to an agricultural operation financially harmed as a result of federal, state or local public health measures taken to minimize exposure to COVID-19. The operation must have suffered harm between March 1 and Dec. 30.

Other funding stipulations in the legislation include:

• The operation cannot receive funds under the COVID-19 Commercial Rental Assistance Program.

• Operations that receive Paycheck Protection Program funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, between Feb. 15 and June 30 are eligible for a grant of up to $20,000.

• An operation that receives more than they are eligible shall return the funds to the commission.

The purpose of the grant program is to assist farms and ranches to overcome the financial harm of the pandemic, to continue food and fiber production in Utah and to maintain the agricultural operation’s supply chains and delivery of products to market, the agency said.

Operators should apply at the state’s website. Applications are due by 5 p.m. May 15.

The relief is being offered as pork and beef prices have dropped dramatically due to the severe disruption in demand from shuttered restaurants, hotels and cruise ships. Exports, too, have been cut off, resulting in oversupply of product leaving farmers and ranchers stranded with their product — be it beef, dairy or onions.

Wilde said because Utah is an inland state, it hasn’t seen the impacts from the exports drying up as other states.

There has been, however, a bit of a clog in the pipeline to get dairy to processing facilities and to move livestock to processing plants.

Earlier this week, the state agency took emergency action to alleviate the stockpile of animals from farms and ranches waiting to be slaughtered and processed.

“We have invited the 10 qualifying custom exempt slaughter establishments in Utah to come under official inspection by UDAF, which will allow them to handle animals that are intended for commercial sale,” Wilde said.

To this point, custom exempt plants only slaughter animals for private individuals for noncommercial use. If all the exempt plants take part in this emergency program it would increase Utah’s processing capacity, according to the agency.

“There are a lot of concerns,” Wilde said. “And there is some hesitation right now because the livestock market is so volatile.”

Still, Wilde said livestock producers in general are optimistic about recovery.

Wilde said the stockpile of excess animals in Utah is not as bad as other states, where there have been stories of ranchers having to euthanize animals because there is nowhere for them to go and they can no longer afford to feed them.

“By taking this unprecedented step we are trying to avoid having animals euthanized and not processed for meat, which is what is happening in some parts of the country,” Wilde said.