By Craig W. Anderson
The $18 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) is helping farmers and ranchers with funding for ag products that suffered setbacks due to the pandemic. The program was created by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) in April in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FSA will accept applications through Aug. 28. The damages to growers, regardless of crop, must have occurred between Jan. 15 and April 15 to receive direct payments.
Funding and commodities
CFAP will supply $16 billion in direct support to producers whose crops have suffered price declines and additional marketing costs caused by the pandemic. Eligible commodities produced in San Joaquin County – based on the most recent information in the 2018 Ag Commissioner’s annual crop report – include non-specialty crops corn and sorghum; specialty crops such as almonds, apples, beans, blueberries, asparagus, cantaloupe, cucumbers, onions, pears, peppers, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, walnuts and watermelons; dairy and wool; and cattle. $2.1 billion in funding covers specialty crops which includes almonds.
Additions, adjustments and changes
The program added additional commodities including alfalfa sprouts, anise, arugula, basil, bean sprouts, beets, blackberries, brussels sprouts, celeriac (celery root), chives, cilantro, coconuts, collard greens, dandelion greens, other greens, guava, kale greens, lettuce – including Boston, green leaf, Lolla Rossa, oak leaf green, oak leaf red and red leaf – marjoram, mint, mustard, okra, oregano, parsnips, passion fruit, pistachios, radicchio, rosemary, sage, savory, sorrel, fresh sugarcane, Swiss chard, thyme and turnip greens.
Aid has been expanded for seven eligible commodities: apples, blueberries and potatoes [all grown in San Joaquin County], garlic, raspberries, tangerines and taro for sales losses suffered at 5% or greater between mid-January/mid-April due to the pandemic. Originally, these commodities were eligible only for marketing adjustments.
According to CFAP, payment rates were corrected for apples, artichokes, garlic, Kiwifruit, mushrooms, papaya, asparagus, blueberries, cantaloupes, cucumbers, raspberries, tangerines and taro.
SJFB First Vice President Ken Vogel, who grows walnuts and cherries in Linden, said FSA continues working to determine crops that could be added to the program. “Adding crops to the initial list that may not necessarily benefit us directly in San Joaquin County but the concept remains beneficial for agriculture overall. The more help every sector of ag can receive, the better.”
USDA FSA offices
SJFB President David Strecker, said, “The local USDA and FSA offices have always been good working with me and it seems the same with everyone who comes into the office.” He noted that everyone in the county has been impacted in some way regardless of what they grow and “it’s good to see opportunity for all growers in San Joaquin County to get financial relief.”
He also said CFAP “had to be designed under the pressure of a COVID pandemic and it doing a good job, continuing to evolve and adjust.”
Good plans good people
“This is a good plan and the people running it want to help affected growers,” said SJFB Second Vice President Jake Samuel. “Funds are available to farmers who need it due to adverse financial conditions caused by the pandemic. The CFAP provides funding for farmers and ranchers which keeps the food chain intact.”
Administration and USDA listened to ag
Perdue said, “During this time of national crisis, President Trump and USDA have stood with our farmers, ranchers and all citizens to make sure they are taken care of. When we announced this program … we asked for public input and received a good response. We asked for input and we updated the program based on the comments we received. This is an example of government working for the people.”
Producers are currently submitting applications that include the initial list of commodities along with new additions and revisions of ongoing products.
Dave Phippen, almond grower and partner in the Travaille & Phippen, an almond processing operation in Ripon, pointed out what was required of the almond industry to qualify for the program and said he is “delighted” that almonds were classified as a specialty crop and due to the lobbying efforts of the Almond Alliance of California that convinced the USDA to include almonds.
“The Almond Board of California – which can’t lobby – contracted with the Almond Alliance – which can lobby on behalf of almonds and the Almond Board – and the alliance was finally able to pierce the bubble at the USDA to make almonds eligible,” Phippen said. “The CFAP is a Big Deal in these pandemic times.”
He recommended almond and other growers wanting to participate “…to apply and get in the Que.”
Elaine Trevino, president of the Almond Alliance of California, said, “There’s a lot of paperwork involved and if there’s a question about the program, or if someone’s having difficulty, encourage them to call us and we’ll work through the processes with the FSA and Agricultural Marketing Service to address their questions.”
“I’ve had dealings with the FSA and I’ve had an excellent experience every time.” Vogel said.
Farm Bureau’s job
SJFB’s Executive Director Bruce Blodgett said, “Farm Bureau’s job is to expand this program to cover and add more commodities, and to work with Congress to keep our presence and opinions known. CFAP is a work in progress.”
Dairy fared well
The CFAP has “definitely helped a lot of dairies through this challenging time,” said Lodi dairy farmer Jack Hamm. “We were set to have a really good year, demand was very high and then COVID-19 hit and the $1.80 per pound of cheese dropped to a dollar in a month. The CFAP really helped dairy operations keep going.”
Hamm said, “In the short run, CFAP was very, very helpful but we’ll have to see about the long term. At this point I think the dairy industry may have more questions than answers.”
Good news details
During a USDA webinar discussing CFAP, J. Latrice Hill, FSA National Director of Outreach, said, “80% of the maximum payment is made when the application is approved; there is no fee required to apply, approved applicants can use the funds however they wish, the funds aren’t a loan and don’t have to be repaid.” Also, the applicant doesn’t have to be a USDA customer.