Packer Interview - Kam Quarles June 23
( File photo )

Losses suffered by apple and potato growers have not been fairly considered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, according to groups that represent the growers.

A bipartisan group of 25 lawmakers sent a letter demanding that the USDA include apples on the list of commodities eligible for market loss related direct payments.

“Steep price decline clearly makes apple growers eligible for CFAP payments, based on the USDA’s requirement of a 5 percent-or-greater price decline between mid-January and mid-April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the letter.

The lawmakers asked the USDA to include apples in Category 1 payments, including data from the apple industry showing losses ranged from 6.5% to as much as 24.9% due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Potato Council on June 22 also submitted comments on the program at regulations.gov, arguing that the department improperly assessed the COVID-19 price effect on potatoes. 

The nine-page letter,signed by the NPC, the United Potato Growers and 18 other potato groups, said the CFAP fails to give potatoes equitable access or receive meaningful relief from the program.

Under the CFAP program, potatoes are not eligible for Category 1 payments, for commodities that suffered a 5% or greater price decline from Jan. 15 to April 15. 
Potatoes did suffer a greater than 5% nationwide price decline, according to the letter.

“Based upon the comprehensive information that the industry has compiled from Jan. 15-April 15, potatoes suffered substantially greater than a 5% nationwide price decline,” the letter said, citing a price decline of 20.51%.

Using Grower Return Index data provided by United Potato Growers of America, the letter said Idaho grower-shippers saw overall prices for fresh market (retail and foodservice) potatoes drop 18% from Jan. 1 to April 15.
“Fresh potatoes serving the foodservice sector alone saw a 30% price decline during the same period,” the letter said. “These prices have fallen further since mid-April and are now down 33%.”

For processing potatoes, growers suffered more than a 50% decrease in value, according to the letter, including potatoes released from contracts with processors.

Payment rates for potatoes under the CFAP must be revised higher, the letter said. Citing prices established for sweet potatoes, the letter said the price per pound for support of white potatoes should be 34 cents per pound for sales losses (Category 1), 13 cents per pound for loads shipped but spoiled (up from current 4 cents per pound for Category 2) and 4 cents per pound for crops not leaving the farm (up from the current level of 1 cent per pound for Category 3).

Other NPC recommendations include:

  • Make CFAP payments eligible for the entirety of 2020;
  • Allow all growers who believe they can prove an economic injury to have an equal opportunity to apply for CFAP relief; and 
  • Allow growers to have equitable access to relief payments by eliminating the differing payment rates in Categories 1, 2 and 3. 

“We want to work with USDA to ensure that relief is available for producers that may have their 2020 crop impaired,” according to the letter. “This is becoming increasingly likely and these producers may suffer impacts that last well into the fall of 2021.”

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