Soybean harvest on the Anderson farm near Mansfield, IL on Saturday, September 30, 2023. photo by Darrell Hoemann, Investigate Midwest

In 2020, the agricultural sector received about $45 billion — the most ever — in federal assistance. More than half of that came in the form of direct pandemic aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to federal data

But a significant amount came from a non-USDA source: the Paycheck Protection Program. The payments were implemented to help businesses keep afloat while parts of society shut down. 

Loans from the program were forgiven if at least 60% was spent on payroll expenses. Nearly all PPP loans to the farm sector have been forgiven, according to the USDA.

California’s farmers received the most money in PPP loans, according to the data.

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Sky Chadde has covered the agriculture industry for Investigate Midwest since 2019 and spent much of 2020 focused on the crisis of COVID-19 in meatpacking plants, which included collecting and analyzing...