U.S. Specialty Crop Industry Reacts to USDA Direct Payment Plan
- by Jordan Okumura
WASHINGTON, DC - This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it will provide up to $2.1 billion in direct payments to growers of specialty crops as part of the $16 billion aid provided under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) included in the CARES Act.
Upon the announcement of this addition to the USDA’s direct payment program for farmers and ranchers impacted by COVID-19, many of the organizations representing specialty crop producers celebrated this latest effort.
“We applaud the announcement of a direct payment program for fruit and vegetable growers,” said Tom Stenzel, President and CEO, United Fresh Produce Association. “That being said, we understand the resource and policy constraints that have been placed on USDA and the Administration and will work closely with Congress on implementing a stronger and more effective program in the next round of discussion with Capitol Hill. It is essential that USDA and Congress focus on programs that target resources for growers, grower-shippers, and others in the produce distribution supply chain that had direct job losses and immediate financial impact from government mandated closures.”
The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) also released a statement applauding the USDA’s $2.1 billion program, stating, “PMA is pleased that the USDA is moving forward to provide much needed resources to produce growers—however, more aid is needed to protect the supply chain and provide the support to ensure our industry can continue to supply consumers with nutritious produce."
Per the program, signups for specialty crop producers will begin on May 26 through growers’ local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office. All payments will be limited to $250,000 per person or legal entity, and participation in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL) does not impact eligibility for CFAP or other USDA farm aid programs, according to PMA’s statement.
“The Administration is doing what it can to help as many farmers as possible from a limited source of relief funds. The tough part of this is that even with the increased cap on relief payments to individual farmers, the actual losses are far greater for many,” said Dave Puglia, President and CEO, Western Growers. “We appreciate all the Administration has already done, especially on regulatory and administrative challenges, to keep our industry operating through the crisis. I urge the President and Secretary Perdue to closely monitor the full scope of economic damage done to fresh produce growers and other farmers and ranchers, and to work with Congress to close the gap in future COVID-19 relief efforts.”
To determine eligibility, PMA outlined the following:
- Producers with a price loss of 5 percent or more between January 15 and April 15, 2020 due to market supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19:
- Fruits: apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwifruit, lemons, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes, watermelons
- Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, dry onions, green onions, peppers, potatoes, rhubarb, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, taro
- Shipments that left the farm by April 15 and spoiled due to no market or for which no payment was received. All specialty crops are eligible
- Shipments that have not left farm or mature crops that remained unharvested by April 15. All specialty crops are eligible
“Given the scope of this crisis, we knew the initial funding would be insufficient to meet the need of family farms. Based upon the limited resources announced today under this direct payment program, the potato industry is strongly urging Congress to act rapidly to provide more resources and flexibility to fill this huge gap and maintain producers’ livelihoods,” shared Kam Quarles, CEO, National Potato Council.
Mike Joyner, President, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, added, “We appreciate the administration’s efforts to help agriculture overcome many of the challenges we have faced during this pandemic. Florida specialty crop producers experienced devastating losses from the shutdown of the foodservice supply chain and slowdown at retail—losses far greater than the direct payment limits announced today will cover. We will continue to work with Congress and the Administration to secure additional relief for hard-hit Florida growers of fresh fruits and vegetables.”
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