(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.”