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Government farm payments jumped in 2020 due to COVID

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – Because of the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, total government payments to Idaho farmers and ranchers, as well as producers across the country, skyrocketed in 2020.

According to estimates by University of Idaho economists, direct federal government payments to Idaho farmers and ranchers totaled $646 million in 2020, a 291 percent increase over the $165,000 total in 2019.

Of that total, $490 million was in the form of the CFAP payments, which were designed to help producers who were economically impacted by the government-ordered restrictions related to COVID-19.

Those projections are contained in the 2020 version of the university’s annual “Financial Condition of Idaho Agriculture” report, which was released Jan. 7. 

Despite the large increase in federal government payments, Idaho farmers and ranchers still received a lot less of their income from government payments in 2020 compared to the average producer across the nation.

According to the 2020 Financial Condition of Idaho Agriculture report, government payments contributed 18 percent to Idaho total net farm income last year, up from 6 percent in 2019.

But direct government payments are forecast to be 39 percent of total U.S. net farm income in 2020.

Idaho agriculture received 1.4 percent of total government payments to U.S. agriculture in 2020.

Idaho farmers and ranchers normally receive a much smaller percentage of their income from federal government payments than U.S. agriculture as a whole.

The large increase in government payments to Idaho farmers and ranchers last year contributed to the state setting an all-time net farm income record of $3.53 billion in 2020. That was 38 percent higher than the previous record of $2.55 billion, which was set in 2019.

USDA estimates that net farm income in the United States increased 43 percent to $120 billion in 2020. As was the case in Idaho, the main reason for the big increase in U.S. net farm income is the CFAP payments. 

While the CFAP payments certainly pushed Idaho’s net farm income record to a very high level, it should be noted that the state would have set a net farm income record last year even without any government payments, said UI Agricultural Economist Garth Taylor, one of the authors of the Financial Condition of Idaho Agriculture report.

“We would have done just fine in Idaho even without government payments,” he said. “That’s a real sign of health in Idaho agriculture.

“We would have surpassed the previous net farm income record anyway, but with those CFAP payments, they blew the previous record out of the water,” said report co-author Ben Eborn.

In addition to the CFAP payments, Idaho agricultural producers received an estimated $26 million in Market Facilitation Program payments in 2020, according to the UI report. Those are payments USDA made to farmers and ranchers who were harmed by what the department termed “unjustified foreign retaliatory tariffs” that resulted in the loss of traditional export markets.

Idaho producers received an estimated $95 million in grain commodity program payments last year, $28 million from federal conservation programs and $7 million from disaster programs.