Pennsylvania’s acclaimed agriculture industry received a senatorial boost this week.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., organized a conference call Wednesday with agriculture leaders across the commonwealth to talk about challenges, needs and possible solutions to ordeals facing farmers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Agriculture is the commonwealth’s top industry, and farmers and agricultural businesses are essential to our economy,” Casey said. “Farmers do incredibly hard and important work, and I know as a result of COVID-19, an already challenging job has become even more difficult.”

Financial losses were prominent among the difficulties he outlined during the discussion. Casey pointed out that price declines cost dairy farmers an estimated $5.7 billion over the past five weeks, and the fresh produce industry has lost $5 billion with more losses anticipated.

The senator pledged to “continue to press the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) to ensure that payments in the CARES Act provide support for farmers selling into local markets, specialty crop producers and dairy farmers, all of whom have a significant footprint in Pennsylvania.”

Casey sent two letters. One, to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, urged him to develop a plan to support agriculture producers, food processors, workers and local food systems, regardless of size. The other, from a Pennsylvania delegation led by the senator, encouraged the U.S. Small Business Administration to ensure that farmers and ag businesses have access to loans and programs that assist them.

The CARES Act provides financial assistance to farmers, which includes a $9.5 billion dedicated disaster fund for specialty crop, dairy, livestock and local food producers that could not receive emergency assistance previously.

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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