USDA announces new Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative

After reevaluating previous COVID-19 aid programs for farmers, the USDA has announced a new, four-part Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says this new program is necessary after the department identified gaps and disparities in how assistance was distributed and the inadequate outreach to underserved producers, and small to medium operations.

Why a new program?

This new program will reach a broader set of producers with at least $6 billion, the department said. A new set of rules will emphasize outreach to small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers, and timber harvesters. It will also provide support for the food supply chain and producers of renewable fuel.

“The pandemic affected all of agriculture, but many farmers did not benefit from previous rounds of pandemic-related assistance. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to helping as many producers as possible, as equitably as possible,” Vilsack says.

What happens to CFAP?

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) and other existing programs will fall within this new initiative. Where statutory authority allows, the old programs will be refined.

CFAP 2 sign-up will be reopened for at least 60 days beginning April 5, 2021. The FSA has committed at least $2.5 million to improve outreach for this program and will partner with organizations to ensure that socially disadvantaged communities are informed and aware of the application process.

Payments announced Wednesday (below) will be distributed under the existing CFAP rules. However, future opportunities for USDA Pandemic Assistance will be reviewed for verified need and during the rulemaking process, USDA will look to make eligibility more consistent with the Farm Bill.

Moving forward, USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers will utilize existing programs, such as the Local Agricultural Marketing Program, Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach, Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and others to enhance educational and market opportunities for agricultural producers. 

Details of the Pandemic Assistance for Producers

Part 1: Investing $6 Billion to Expand Help & Assistance to More Producers   

USDA will dedicate at least $6 billion to develop a number of new programs or modify existing proposals using discretionary funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act and other coronavirus funding that went unspent by the previous administration. Where rulemaking is required, it will begin this spring. These efforts will include assistance for:

  • Dairy farmers through the Dairy Donation Program or other means
  • Euthanized livestock and poultry
  • Biofuels
  • Specialty crops, beginning farmers, local, urban and organic farms
  • Costs for organic certification or to continue or add conservation activities
  • Other possible expansion and corrections to CFAP that were not part of Wednesday’s announcement such as to support dairy or other livestock producers
  • Timber harvesting and hauling
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) and other protective measures for food and farm workers and specialty crop and seafood producers, processors, and distributors
  • Improving the resilience of the food supply chain, including assistance to meat and poultry operations to facilitate interstate shipment
  • Developing infrastructure to support donation and distribution of perishable commodities, including food donation and distribution through farm-to-school, restaurants, or other community organizations
  • Reducing food waste

Part 2: Adding $500 Million in New Funding to Existing Programs

USDA expects to begin investing approximately $500 million in expedited assistance through several existing programs this spring, with most by April 30, 2021. This new assistance includes: 

  • $100 million in additional funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which enhances the competitiveness of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops
  • $75 million in additional funding for the Farmers Opportunities Training and Outreach program, administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement, which encourages and assists socially disadvantaged, veteran, and beginning farmers and ranchers in the ownership and operation of farms and ranches
  • $100 million in additional funding for the Local Agricultural Marketing Program, administered by the AMS and Rural Development, which supports the development, coordination, and expansion of direct producer-to-consumer marketing, local and regional food markets and enterprises, and value-added agricultural products
  • $75 million in additional funding for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, administered by the NIFA, which provides funding opportunities to conduct and evaluate projects providing incentives to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers
  • $20 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to improve and maintain animal disease prevention and response capacity, including the National Animal Health Laboratory Network
  • $20 million for the Agricultural Research Service to work collaboratively with Texas A&M on the critical intersection between responsive agriculture, food production, and human nutrition and health
  • $28 million for NIFA to provide grants to state departments of agriculture to expand or sustain existing farm stress assistance programs
  • Approximately $80 million in additional payments to domestic users of upland and extra-long staple cotton based on a formula set in the Consolidated Appropriations  Act, 2021, which USDA plans to deliver through the Economic Adjustment Assistance for Textile Mills program

Part 3: Carrying Out Formula Payments under CFAP 1, CFAP 2, CFAP AA

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, enacted December 2020 requires FSA to make certain payments to producers according to a mandated formula. USDA is now expediting these provisions because there is no discretion involved in interpreting such directives; they are self-enacting. 

  • An increase in CFAP 1 payment rates for cattle. Cattle producers with approved CFAP 1 applications will automatically receive these payments beginning in April. Information on the additional payment rates for cattle can be found on farmers.gov/cfap. Eligible producers do not need to submit new applications, since payments are based on previously approved CFAP 1 applications. USDA estimates additional payments of more than $1.1 billion to more than 410,000 producers, according to the mandated formula.
  • Additional CFAP assistance of $20 per acre for producers of eligible crops identified as CFAP 2 flat-rate or price-trigger crops beginning in April. This includes alfalfa, corn, cotton, hemp, peanuts, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets, and wheat, among other crops. FSA will automatically issue payments to eligible price trigger and flat-rate crop producers based on the eligible acres included on their CFAP 2 applications. Eligible producers do not need to submit a new CFAP 2 application. For a list of all eligible row crops, visit farmers.gov/cfap. USDA estimates additional payments of more than $4.5 billion to more than 560,000 producers, according to the mandated formula.

USDA will finalize routine decisions and minor formula adjustments on applications and begin processing payments for certain applications filed as part of the CFAP Additional Assistance program in the following categories: 

  • Applications filed for pullets and turfgrass sod
  • A formula correction for row-crop producer applications to allow producers with a non-Actual Production History (APH) insurance policy to use 100% of the 2019 Agriculture Risk Coverage-County Option (ARC-CO) benchmark yield in the calculation
  • Sales commodity applications revised to include insurance indemnities, Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program payments, and Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus payments, as required by statute
  • Additional payments for swine producers and contract growers under CFAP Additional Assistance remain on hold and are likely to require modifications to the regulation as part of the broader evaluation and future assistance; however, FSA will continue to accept applications from interested producers

Part 4: Reopening CFAP 2 Sign-Up to Improve Access & Outreach to Underserved Producers

As noted above, USDA will reopen sign-up for of CFAP 2 for at least 60 days beginning on April 5, 2021. 

  • FSA has committed at least $2.5 million to establish partnerships and direct outreach efforts intended to improve outreach for CFAP 2 and will cooperate with grassroots organizations with strong connections to socially disadvantaged communities to ensure they are informed and aware of the application process.

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