Farm Aid staff members have been busy reading grant proposals for the past few weeks. During our annual grant cycle this year we received 147 proposals, requesting more than $1.6 million. Of course, we wish we had that much to grant out to the wonderful projects we're reading about, but unfortunately that's not the case. And in what has been a tough economic year for Farm Aid and a really difficult year for family farmers, we're buckling down and really focusing on where our dollars can do the most good for family farmers.
On the financial front, farmers entered 2009 at a disadvantage because of the credit crunch that made it hard for them to plant their crops and invest in any improvements on the farm. Dairy farmers continued to see abysmal milk prices that didn't cover even half of their cost of production--and prices have still not recovered. Pork and poultry producers suffered due to overproduction leading to low prices, and they too are still in that boat. And all farmers faced the highest production costs on record in many parts of the country.
On the weather front, farmers in the Northeast had to deal with late blight due to cool, wet weather, which wiped out tomato and some potato crops. The weather also meant farmers got a late start in the fields and as that weather pattern continued throughout the summer, crop growth was slow and in some cases, whole crops were lost. Come fall, there was more cold, wet weather across the country. In the Midwest, that made for some of the latest harvests in years, and in the Northeast, it led to apple crops left to rot in the orchards. These apples would normally be picked by families who come out in droves to pick their own, but this year they chose to stay warm and dry, rather than harvest the autumn fruit (which, because of all that rain, actually grew beautifully!).
You can see, then, why family farmers are foremost in our minds as we determine where Farm Aid's grant dollars will go this year. Once we get input from Willie and he approves our recommendations, we'll get the checks to him for his signature, and we'll get those checks out the door so that organizations across the country can do the grass-roots work of supporting family farmers all year long.