Fresh produce industry associations have joined other agricultural groups in asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend the deadline for producers to receive direct payments through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).
The deadline for CFAP funds, which covers COVID-19 pandemic losses to specialty crop growers, as well as livestock, row crop (non-specialty crops) and dairy industries, is Aug. 28.
As of Aug. 10, the program has paid out $305.6 million to specialty crop growers, and $7.04 billion to all producers included in the program’s coverage, according to the USDA’s CFAP Dashboard.
The Aug. 7 letter to the USDA, posted online by the American Farm Bureau Federation, is signed by a dozen associations representing fresh fruits and vegetables, including the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers and national groups representing growers of onions, potatoes, blueberries and apples.
The Aug. 28 deadline could exclude eligible growers, including potato and apple growers, whose commodities were giving eligibility to a segment of the program on July 9.
“At the same time, we strongly encourage you to increase producer and stakeholder engagement initiatives,” according to the letter, which acknowledges the USDA’s outreach efforts, but says the Farm Service Agency (FSA) staff has been limited in actual face-to-face meetings with growers because of distance working brought on by the pandemic.
Many producers haven’t worked with the FSA, which likely affected estimates of CFAP eligibility and benefits distributed to producers, according to the letter.
The letter requests eligibility to be reconsidered for reasons including “the inconsistency between interpretation of livestock sales, dairy sales and crop sales with respect to the use of futures or forward contracts.”
CFAP payments are capped at $250,000 per person or entity for all commodities combined, or up to $750,000 for eligible corporate entities. The letter requests the USDA “apply each owner’s share to the overall CFAP payment to which the entity is entitled, not to the payment limitation itself, in order to maximize the benefit afforded to operations of all sizes and avoid unfairly limiting support to certain farms based on ownership structure.”
Referring to Aug. 3 CFAP numbers, the most recent at the time the letter was writing, specialty crop growers had received 12% of the overall payments, with specific crops receiving:
- Carrots: 1%
- Oranges: 2%
- Tomatoes: 6%
- Apples: 10%
- Strawberries: 11%
- Potatoes: 24%
- Almonds: 39%
“We applaud the efforts of the Department to quickly deliver support to agricultural producers provided by the (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) and hope that the department will strongly consider our recommendations when determining how to ensure producers negatively impacted by COVID-19 receive the necessary support,” according to the letter.