Working hard every day — often miles from the nearest town — those who operate small or family farms are among the hidden victims of the coronavirus pandemic, and they are not receiving much economic help.

Some government assistance programs have been introduced, but these struggling farmers often don’t have access to accountants to help them figure out whether or not they qualify for federal loans, the vice president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union told us.

Larger agri-businesses have legal staffs, said Michael Kovach, who in addition to his duties at the state Farmer’s Union also operates his own farm in Mercer County. Even if they wanted to explore the possibility of grant or loan applications, they would likely be too busy just working to keep their farm in operation, he said.

The most recent round of applications for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan does target agriculture. Farmers had not previously been allowed to apply for the federal loans, but the last round of federal coronavirus stimulus legislation opened the door for farmers.

They need something. They are being hit from all angles.

The upheaval in the meat supply chain, triggered by illness among workers at meat processing plants, has been so bad in recent weeks that farmers taking hogs to animal markets were told not to bother trying to sell because there were no buyers. Those circumstances will trickle down to grain farmers, said Tim Lesher, a former president of the Northumberland County Farm Bureau.

Liam Migdail, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, notes that it’s a “double whammy” for livestock farmers because the farmer is not getting paid for selling livestock, yet they must continue to feed the animals. Then, if they finally do make it to market, they will command lower prices because the animals are older.

Farm organizations have been working to get information to farmers to help them navigate the federal loans, but Aaron Shier, a lobbyist for the National Farmers Union, said it’s still too early to know how many farmers will get grants or loans through federal programs.

Kovach said one of the only hopeful signs is that more public attention is being focused on the need to make more assistance available to those who operate small farms. “It’s encouraging to me that this is being discussed more widely.”

All of us can help provide more of that important encouragement by gathering and sharing more information on these issues, contacting state and federal lawmakers on behalf of local farmers, lending professional services or expertise whenever possible and supporting our local farmers by purchasing their products at every opportunity.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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