USDA Expands Aid to US Farmers, Specialty Crop Producers

Producer federation warns some farmers may not know aid is available
August 12, 2020 Updated: August 12, 2020

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday that the federal government will help support American farmers and specialty producers by expanding the number of commodities covered by the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is also extending the deadline for applications to the program from Aug. 28 to Sept. 11.

The CFAP system was introduced to aid agricultural producers that had been directly affected by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus crisis. According to the USDA, the program supports farmers who suffered a decline in prices of five percent or more or who experienced losses due to disruptions in supply chains, thus facing significantly higher marketing costs.

“President Trump is standing with America’s farmers and ranchers to ensure they get through this pandemic and continue to produce enough food and fiber to feed America and the world,” Perdue said in a statement. “That is why he authorized this $16 billion of direct support in the CFAP program and today we are pleased to add additional commodities eligible to receive much needed assistance.”

Additional Commodities, Specialty Producers

Throughout the month of June, the USDA collected comments and supporting data to aid in the selection of additional commodities for inclusion in the CFAP program.

New additions to the program include specialty crops of well-known foods such as bananas, dates, horseradish, maple syrup, and parsley, while more exotic additions included malanga, a high-fiber root vegetable, and dragon fruit or pitaya from a cactus species, which has a taste and texture somewhat similar to kiwifruit.

Non-specialty foods and livestock were also added to the list in the form of liquid and frozen eggs and “all sheep.” Before now, only lambs and yearling sheep had been eligible.

Producers of aquaculture products such as catfish and largemouth bass sold live as food fish will also qualify for assistance, as well as a number of sportfish, including salmon and trout. Nursery crop farmers and producers of cut flowers may also receive assistance.

According to the USDA, seven commodities already on the list—onions (green), pistachios, peppermint, spearmint, walnuts, and watermelons—are now eligible for funding for sales losses under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability (CARES) Act.

Pumpkins rest in a field at Councell Farms in Easton, Md., on Oct. 17, 2012. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Pumpkins rest in a field at Councell Farms in Easton, Md., on Oct. 17, 2012. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

“CFAP is just one of the many ways USDA is helping producers weather the impacts of the pandemic,” Purdue said. He said the government had been helping farmers defer payments on loans, and making crop insurance and reporting deadlines more flexible.

Only Half of USDA Funding Paid Out

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), farm groups are applauding the action to extend the CFAP deadline—an issue the AFBF requested in a letter to the Department of Agriculture last week.

However, AFBF Chief Economist John Newton said he was concerned that farmers were not availing fully of the aid available—and that some farmers may not even know that assistance is available.

“Through the first eight to nine weeks, we’ve seen only about $7 billion of the estimated $15.4 billion go out to producers,” Newton said in an AFBF podcast. “And in the case of specialty crop producers, at this point only about $300 million has been paid to those growers. So, I think they need more time to engage with FSA (Farm Service Agency), do a little bit more outreach, so that farmers across the country know that this critical support is available.”