The Trump administration has announced plans to give farmers tariff relief. ( File photo )

(UPDATED, July 25)  With no direct payments expected for specialty crop growers, the Trump administration announced its plan to help farmers hurt by retaliatory trade tariffs with up to $12 billion in government relief.

Fruit growers have been slammed by tariffs from Mexico, China, India and other markets in response to the administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from multiple countries.

Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said the relief plan falls short of what the industry was hoping for.

“There are a lot of questions in our mind as to the viability of what’s being offered right now for the fresh produce industry,” Nelsen said.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a news release that President Trump asked him to craft a short-term relief strategy to protect agricultural producers while the administration works on “free, fair, and reciprocal” trade deals.

“This is a short-term solution to allow President Trump time to work on long-term trade deals to benefit agriculture and the entire U.S. economy,” Perdue said in the release. 

Nelsen said July 25 that the sudden release of the details of the plan took many industry leaders off guard.

“We were in Washington as recently as last week discussing parameters, various ideas,” he said. The meetings with administration officials were cordial and productive, he said.

“Suddenly you get an announcement with these three ideas and as presently structured, none of them work for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry,” Nelsen said.

The plan uses three programs to assist farmers:

  • The Market Facilitation Program, authorized under The Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act and administered by Farm Service Agency, will provide payments incrementally to producers of soybeans, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, dairy, and hogs. The USDA said it will help farmers manage disrupted markets, deal with surplus commodities, and expand and develop new markets at home and abroad; 
  • The Food Purchase and Distribution Program through the Agricultural Marketing Service will purchase unexpected surplus of affected commodities such as fruits, nuts, rice, legumes, beef, pork and milk for distribution to food banks and other nutrition programs; and
  • A Trade Promotion Program administered by the Foreign Agriculture Service with the private sector to assist in developing new export markets.

The Northwest tree fruit industry is interested in the details of the plan, said Mark Powers, president of the Yakima, Wash.-based Northwest Horticultural Council. He noted that the Market Facilitation Program apparently does not apply to specialty crop growers.

The other two programs — bonus purchases of commodities and trade promotion funds — could be helpful to fresh produce growers.

Powers said the council was appreciative of the efforts to assist specialty crop growers.

“We prefer trade rather than aid, but if there is a way to help our growers, we are certainly supportive of that if it can be done productively,” he said. “We need more details.”

The Market Facilitation Program, Nelsen said, is specifically designed for the row crops and livestock sectors.

The Food Purchase and Distribution Program will likely buy off-grade/off-size produce for government feeding programs. That won’t offset the loss of export markets that pay a premium for fresh fruit, Nelsen said. 

The Trade Promotion Program has plenty of questions, he said, including: Will funds be available to fresh produce marketers that have lost market opportunities? Will funds be available to carryover for the next season? How much time will it take to distribute funds for export market promotion?

Nelsen said the administration needs to work closer with produce exporters on how markets work and design the programs with that input “rather than just utilizing the expertise that they have in a cubicle.”

Submitted by don on Tue, 07/24/2018 - 14:32

this is welfare and a tax on everyone to pay for it what a joke

Submitted by Howard Prussack on Tue, 07/24/2018 - 15:55

What a bad joke! Farmers don’t want band aid handouts! They want free trade with no disruptions, what happened to the party that was against govt interventions? Does anyone believe it will get back to normal soon? Markets lost are markets gone...

Submitted by Howard Prussack on Tue, 07/24/2018 - 15:55

What a bad joke! Farmers don’t want band aid handouts! They want free trade with no disruptions, what happened to the party that was against govt interventions? Does anyone believe it will get back to normal soon? Markets lost are markets gone...

Submitted by Gerald Chooljian on Tue, 07/24/2018 - 16:01

This does not help with customers we have worked with in other countries to assist us in developing a market. This will only assist commodities if the market that was developed dries up and you have excess supply.

Submitted by AUDIOMIND on Tue, 07/24/2018 - 16:02

How about instead of welfare transfer payments to farmers, we just stop the tariff nonsense altogether?

Submitted by MO on Tue, 07/24/2018 - 17:59

US imports 500 billion surplus from China versus what we export. Time to even the playing field, I believe that the Chinese will blink first.

Submitted by Matt on Wed, 07/25/2018 - 08:25

A one time hand out will be as useful as a band-aid on a missing foot. What will be the long term damage done by this ill conceived program? How quickly will markets buy from the US again? Will new markets be skittish to do business with the US given how impulsive we have been recently? What happens to long term production when agriculture won't be able to invest in new land, new tech, replacement equipment, labor, and new varieties because of the policies effecting agriculture now?

Submitted by Steve on Wed, 07/25/2018 - 18:08

All the commenters should reveal who they voted for.
I voted for Sanders, then CLinton.
Fire the apprentice.

Farmers are not getting immigration labor reform, relief on trucking, advocacy on food safety, nor sound trade policy. There is going to be a real good market in farm real estate in a year or so. The banks and offshores will buy us.

Submitted by F & F Farms inc. Tim Fields Alachua County Florida on Tue, 08/07/2018 - 19:34

Yes I purchased a insurance policy through the (NAP) program and they have refused to pay me for several years now on a product , pepper $17,000 per acre where it cost me a little over $6,000 an acre to grow it and they sold me the policy but has refused to pay due to a mistake many years ago that they have not at this time and not have planned to change this policy anytime soon from what I've been told from a reliable source from the state of Florida FSA individual employee. Gentleman and women it's time to stand up for our rights and we demand I repeat we demand and answer for these policies and these fraudulent policies being sold to us and not being paid and putting us out of business.