Local farmer and member of the board of directors for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation (VFBF) Robert Mills Jr. joined a group of agricultural leaders in addressing the nation alongside President Donald Trump today to speak about a new relief package for U.S. farmers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mills, who represents Pittsylvania County, Campbell County and Halifax County in the VFBF, spoke with the Star-Tribune about his experience traveling to Washington D.C., joining other Virginia agriculture leaders and meeting Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
"I got a phone call last Friday afternoon about 3 o'clock, we had just finished planting tobacco, and it was the liaison with the Farm Bureau...they said, 'Robert would you be available to come to the White House, President Trump would like to have a few farmers there for an announcement,'" Mills said.
So today, Mills joined several other agriculture leaders from Virginia at the White House for the announcement of the new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a $16 billion stimulus package for U.S. farmers and ranchers who have seen commodity prices of produce and livestock drop substantially as a result of the pandemic.
"COVID-19 could not have hit the agricultural community at a worse time," Mills said. "We were just coming off the trade war; commodity prices were already low, and COVID-19 drove those prices even lower."
Mills said that the value of commodities dropping has left farming families in a tough financial crisis, as the closure of restaurants and catering businesses has left many commodity-producers unable to move their products and selling for far lower prices than before the pandemic hit.
This stimulus package is not a "bailout" for farmers, Mills said, but a one-time aid to help farmers make up for drops in commodity prices.
Mills is a first-generation farmer in Pittsylvania County. This area, he says, offers a great diversity of products for farmers to produce. His farming operation, Briar View Farms Inc., of which he is the president and owner, grows four different kinds of tobacco, industrial hemp, hay and grain and raises beef cattle and poultry.
"The county is a good place to be in the agricultural business," Mills said. "We're fortunate that we have leadership in the county that recognizes agriculture as an integral part of what our county is. It is the largest industry in the county, just like it's the largest industry in the state."
For more on Robert Mills and the state of farming during COVID-19, see the May 20 edition of the Star-Tribune.