Packer Interview - Jim Bair July 10
The Packer's Tom Karst visited July 10 with Jim Bair of the U.S. Apple Association about changes for apples in the CFAP program. ( The Packer )

(UPDATED) Apples and potatoes are among the crops now eligible for direct payments to growers for sales losses in the $2.1 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program funds for specialty crops.

The USDA added those items, along with blueberries, garlic, raspberries, tangerines and taro to the list of commodities in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The USDA said these items are eligible for sales loss payments, known as Category 1 commodities. To qualify for Category 1, data must show the crop lost a minimum of 5% of its value during a three-month period.

The USDA announced the additions in a July 9 notice.

In another Federal Register notice, the USDA added more specialty crop commodities to the CFAP program. The agency received more than 1,700 comments on the original list of commodities in the program and indicated there would be more additions to come based on those comments.

The USDA is adding more than three dozen other commodities to the program, including some types of sprouts, kale and other greens, pineapples, blackberries, Brussels sprouts, some herbs and assorted lettuces.

“Additional review is ongoing, which will result in a subsequent announcement,” the USDA said in the notice.

Changes to pay rates were also made to artichokes, asparagus, cantaloupes, cucumbers, kiwifruit, mushrooms and papaya, but their Category 1 status remains. The USDA reviewed documents for peaches and rhubarb, and dropped them from eligibility under category 1. 

Apples and potatoes

Apples, initially left out of the program’s component dealing with price declines, are now eligible for five cents per pound. Data submitted showed an industry average loss of 10.9%, above the 5% minimum threshold to qualify for payments for sales losses, the USDA said.

The work to show that apples deserved to be in the program was a collective effort involving leaders of the apple industry in the Northwest and around the country, said U.S. Apple Association president and CEO Jim Bair. 

"I've been doing this kind of work for a long time time. and I've never seen such a large database of information that was provided to the government," he said. " We gave them actual sales price data on 44 million boxes of apples; that was more than half of all the apples that moved during that period."

 He said U.S. Apple submitted more than 30 pages of data to USDA detailing actual sales numbers on more than 43 million bushels of apples, more than half of all the apples marketed in the three-month period outlined in eligibility requirements. Price declines ranged from 6.5% to 24.9%, according to the apple association.

"We kept our optimism and, and thankfully USDA agreed with us," Bair said.

The USDA said potatoes were added as an eligible commodity because of data submitted by the industry.

Original prices used by USDA to determine eligibility were for table stock fresh potatoes and not for processing or seed potatoes.

“The industry data show that seed potatoes had a 15% price decline and fresh retail and foodservice potatoes had a 6.7% price decline over the rule stated period,” the USDA said in the Federal Register notice.

“The potato industry appreciates the rapid work of USDA in considering these changes and making potatoes eligible for all three categories of payments,” Britt Raybould, National Potato Council president, said in a news release.

“We believe the economic justification submitted by the industry strongly supports the meaningful inclusion of potatoes in this relief program, given the devastation faced by the industry due to the government-mandated food service shutdown.”

Raybould said the NPC is working to improve the terms of the program for growers.

“Our industry continues to believe that our recommendations of making all potatoes equally eligible and with a meaningful payment level of at least $0.04 per pound is a simple, balanced approach that ensures relief flows to growers who need support,” Raybould said in the release.

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