Saving the economy means saving the food industry

Programs needed to help farmers, small and medium-sized businesses.

JSSP Guest Column
Courtesy image / Internet Reputation —

By Rob Larew, farmer and president, National Farmers Union;

Mark Watne, farmer and president of North Dakota Farmers Union;

and Dan Simons, restaurateur and co-owner of Farmers Restaurant Group

The deep divisions in America seen in the news and halls of Congress are not what we see in the food industry. As farmers and restaurateurs, we are one America. We urge our elected leaders to set aside their differences and come together to pass stimulus legislation. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue – it’s about ensuring the future of our food industry and our country.

From the heartland of the Dakotas to the East Coast, we see across America from the inside out – the 50,000 members of North Dakota Farmers Union, the hundreds of thousands of family farms across the country represented by National Farmers Union, the thousands of diverse guests dining in our farmer-owned restaurants, and the restaurant and farm workers who help run our operations. There are also the millions of people between the field and the plate: truck drivers, meat plant and processing workers, cheesemakers, distilleries, laundry services, and countless more businesses that make the food supply chain work. These workers span the political spectrum, from staunch conservatives to progressives, and everything in between. All of them, regardless of political affiliation, need and deserve the support of our federal government during this difficult time.


The farm economy and the restaurant economy do not exist in a vacuum. Their strength depends on the strength of the economy at large and the well-being of the American people. Independent farmers across America sell to independent restaurants across America. We create jobs, we are vital components of the economy and society. We are connected, we are rooting for each other, we need each other, and we need financial aid.

Running a farm or a restaurant has never been easy. Pre-COVID, net farm income was already down 50 percent from 2013, and independent restaurant cash flow averages barely reached 6 percent, nationally. It is not hyperbole to say we have gone from previously difficult to currently impossible. The restaurant industry is on track to lose $240 billion in sales by the end of the year, at least 100,000 restaurants will be closed, and nearly 3 million employees are still out of work. Our daily conversations revolve around what bill not to pay, which family member goes with less, and how to deal with the mounting desperation and generalized anxiety and depression. When we lose a family farm or a restaurant to foreclosure or bankruptcy, it isn’t just a statistic – it’s a real family who knows they are about to go from being the producer or provider of food to being the ones standing in long lines at a food pantry. We know, because these are our people, our workers, our neighbors.

We urge the prompt passage of another round of the Paycheck Protection Program with sensible requirements ensuring the money goes to small and medium-sized businesses suffering harm from the pandemic. We acknowledge that grants are required for short-term survival while loan programs are required for longer term recovery. Funding an additional round of Economic Injury Disaster Loans, along with extending and amending the Main Street Lending Program, would create a viable pathway from surviving to thriving.

For our families to keep feeding the nation, and our own families, we need these programs. There is no relevant partisan lens that should be used to view this landscape. There is no better lens than the one that sees us all as Americans, unified in our need and our resilience.

We are the people. We say to Congress and the president, please act – and enact – on our behalf. Each week of inaction equals more farm destruction and restaurant destruction and more devastating stories of businesses and families in peril. Stop the political calculus and do the human calculus, for all of us.

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