Farmers, ranchers and growers have received roughly $5.4 billion worth of aid payments through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).
So far, beef producers have received nearly half of the amount of roughly $2.3 billion. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) sent letters to leaders on Capitol Hill and thanked them for their efforts in supporting producers through CFAP and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES). NCBA urged them to continue their work by improving CFAP.
Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president of government affairs, issued the following statement:
“The assistance provided to rural America through the CARES Act represented a critical step toward ensuring U.S. cattle producers remain operationally viable in the short-term during the height of COVID-19. … While CFAP was a good start, these cattle assistance payments can be improved upon and tailored to provide additional support to those in our industry who have been especially affected by market disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Meanwhile, there are some ag sectors that feel they should get a shot at these payments since their industries suffered losses due to coronavirus too.
There are several commodities eligible for CFAP payments, but potato and apple growers want a bigger slice. Both sectors, along with some lawmakers, wrote to Secretary of Ag Sonny Perdue and asked for economic relief.
“The purpose of filing that letter was to make our case that we needed to be included in the program and also for USDA to set up a meaningful payment level,” says Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council.
The CFAP payments are broken down into categories. Both industries want to be included in Category 1, the largest for payments.
“We believe if Category 1 is properly modified, then that will allow apple growers to access the assistance to the greatest extent,” says Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.
A sector needs to have experienced a 5% or greater price decline from mid-January to mid-April to be included as a result of the pandemic. Both sectors claim they did, but USDA didn’t have all the data it needed when determinations were made.
The apple industry says its losses ranged from 6.5% to nearly 25%, depending on the operation.
“The pricing information [USDA] utilized is from terminal markets,” Powers says. “Terminal markets don’t capture all of the retail sales. There was a disconnect in terms of the pricing they utilized and true industry pricing.”
The potato industry says USDA didn’t include much of its industry data outside of the retail level.
“When we went back and looked at the data USDA had available to them, and it’s not their fault, they used what they had, we found that data only entailed about 6.5% of all the potato transactions that occur in the course of a year,” Quarles explains.
The industry letter says seed potato growers have had all or a portion of their crop returned without payment.
“When you put together the seed industry along with processing potatoes that’s 70% of our industry,” Quarles says.
Some sectors are eligible to apply for different categories but say it’s not adequate or meaningful relief. For example, for Category 3, the payment rate established by USDA for potatoes is only 1¢ per pound, lower than the cost of destroying the crop.
“I think the data is extremely clear,” Quarles says. “It’s backed up by a lot of the national headlines saying how potato growers and how they’re giving their product away.”
USDA says it will announce any changes within the next couple of weeks.
In the meantime, both industries are hopeful.
“I think they have the right intentions,” Powers says. “I know they want to get the money out the door. They used the information they had available and time was incredibly short.”
Both apples and potatoes are included in the department’s harvest box and purchase programs. USDA announced a $50 million surplus potato purchase back in May to support the industry during the pandemic.