( Ashley Nickle )

A dozen groups representing state and regional apple growers have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reconsider its method of determining which crops are eligible for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.

The program, known as CFAP, calculates payments to eligible growers on per-commodity basis. The apple groups, led by the U.S. Apple Association, sent a letter to the USDA's Farm Service Agency, via the Federal Rulemaking Portal

The apple groups contend the USDA’s analysis that determined the apple prices and grower eligibility is “fatally flawed and does not match the reality of what is happening in the industry,” according to the letter.

The U.S. Apple Association submitted more than 30 pages of data, including sales data on more than 43 million bushels of apples, more than half of all apples marketed from Jan. 15-April 15. The USDA established three categories in which crops would be eligible for CFAP funds, one of which is crops that suffered a 5% or greater price drop in that three-month period as a result of the pandemic. According to the USDA, apples did not qualify in that category.

“When USDA concluded that apple growers didn’t qualify because it had determined apple prices had not declined at least 5% between Jan. 15 and April 15, every grower in America knew that wasn’t correct,” Jim Bair, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association, said in a news release. “But record-shattering stocks, combined with sluggish domestic and export movement, lead one to draw only one conclusion, apple growers have been hurt badly.”

With data from the national organization and Washington State Tree Fruit Association, the groups determined price declines ranged from 6.5% to almost 25%, according to the release.

“Had the data not shown a dramatic decline in prices, they would have run counter to simple supply and demand economics,” Bair said in the release.

About 95% of apple sales are made between shippers and supermarket chains, but that sales data was not captured by the USDA.

According to the U.S. Apple Association’s study of data:

  • Shipping volumes dropped 24% during that period;
  • Stocks on hand are 15% more than the previous record and 26% above the five-year average; and
  • A record-setting 19% of the 2019 crop remains with less than two months before the next season.

“These data overwhelmingly make the case that apple growers meet USDA’s criteria for the direct financial support intended by Congress,” Bair said in the release. “But, as of June 15, of the total $2.9 billion USDA has sent to more than 220,000 farmers, so far as we are aware, none has gone to an apple grower.”

Other groups signing the letter were:

For more pandemic coverage, see The Packer's COVID-19 webpage.

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