In this Thursday Aug. 15, 2019 photo, dairy farmer Fred Stone pauses while working in the milking room at his farm in Arundel, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s dairy farmers and specialty crop growers have received the bulk of federal aid that’s designed to help food producers weather the coronavirus pandemic.

Farmers in the state have received nearly $20 million in total. About $9.1 million has gone to specialty crop growers, who grow products such as fruits, vegetables and tree nuts. Dairy farmers have received $8.7 million of the total.

The rest of the money has gone to livestock farmers and non-specialty crop farmers, according to the office of Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. She said the assistance is vitally important to help Maine’s farms survive the pandemic.

“The supply chain disruptions and restaurant closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have placed increasing financial pressure on Maine’s rural farming communities, from newly founded farms to operations that have been passed down from generation to generation,” she said.

The money is from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which was created through the CARES Act. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Maine Democrat, and other lawmakers have charged recently that the program is in need of better oversight.

Pingree and others sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue earlier this month that said “direct payments to producers have largely overlooked small farms, and those that are owned by beginning, veteran, minority, and socially disadvantaged farmers.” She also said less than 400 of Maine’s 7,600 farms had received federal COVID-19 relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as of Aug. 4.

Story by Patrick Whittle.