In the midst of the worst drought the U.S. mainland has witnessed in more than 50 years, which has significantly increased food prices worldwide, the Agriculture Department has earmarked $3.7 million to help Puerto Rico farmers address higher feed and production costs, agency Secretary Neftalí Soto said Thursday.
With this assignment the agency will establish a Special Incentive Program for the purchase of concentrate feed for livestock farmers as a result of the increase in corn products, soybean and wheat. The assistance program begins Nov. 1.
“This investment in local agricultural production will benefit the consumer,” said Soto during a news conference at the agency’s Santurce headquarters. “As much as we can remedy the increased cost of production for local farmers, we can minimize a possible increase in the distribution chain, which would ultimately impact the consumer.”
The incentives will work on a reimbursement basis, to cover the portion representing the increase in price of the concentrate feed purchased. To prove the expense, companies must submit paid invoices and a certification of the animals they own, which will be issued by an agency employee. In the case of dairy, poultry and egg farmers, the incentive will be granted based on production registered through the agency’s Payroll Subsidy Program, he said.
Puerto Rico farmers depend almost exclusively on buying concentrate feed from stateside suppliers. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the price of corn and soybeans has risen by 23 percent in the last year. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that the drought has affected 88 percent of corn fields, and to a lesser extent, soy fields.
Agency grants $2.1M in payroll subsidies
Meanwhile, Soto said the agency recently established a program that authorizes the prepayment of a wage subsidy to farmers who hire and retail field workers.
Through the so-called Expedited Prepayment, the agency will advanced, 50 percent of the payment for the hours certified by employers in the prior quarter or of total production, as applicable.
So far, the agency has cut 913 checks for a little more than $2.1 million, while another 865 checks will be written out in coming weeks, Soto said. The Agriculture Department has a $38 million budget in place for payroll subsidies and more than $70 million earmarked for other benefits.
To benefit from the incentive program, the farming operation must pay workers the minimum local salary of $5.25 an hour, of which they will get back half. Under normal circumstances, that reimbursement could take about as long as three months to process.
But now, the farming employer will receive the reimbursement before submitting the paperwork, Soto said.