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USDA to release coronavirus reserve funds, makes more products eligible

More than half a million farmers and ranchers will get a second round of coronavirus relief payments, worth an estimated $1.4 billion, said the Agriculture Department on Tuesday as it made dozens of additional commodities eligible for aid and gave producers an additional two weeks, until September 11, to apply. Farm and agribusiness groups say the limits on aid are too restrictive, but USDA announced no change in the maximum of $250,000 per farmer or entity.

The largest U.S. farm group said the expanded eligibility and extended deadline would provide a lifeline to producers. “No one know can tell when this pandemic will end,” said president Zippy Duvall of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “COVID-19 has taken its toll on farmers across the country, regardless of what they grow or raise.”

Since early June, the USDA has disbursed $7 billion to producers from the $16 billion earmarked for agriculture in the administration’s one-time-only Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). Payments were prorated at 80% in case of overwhelming demand, with a final payment to be made if there was money left over.

The remaining 20% will now be released, said the USDA. As of Monday, nearly 523,000 applicants had received prorated payments. The second-round payments would boost CFAP outlays to an estimated $8.4 billion.

“CFAP is just one of the many ways USDA is helping producers weather the impacts of the pandemic,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “From deferring payments on loans to adding flexibilities to crop insurance and reporting deadlines, USDA has been leveraging many tools to help producers.”

Based on comments and supporting data submitted through June 22, the USDA made eligible for CFAP payments 42 specialty crops, from bananas and star fruit to watercress and cassava; 12 types of fish and shellfish from crawfish and catfish to ornamental fish; nursery crops and cut flowers; frozen eggs and liquid eggs; and all ages of sheep. Previously, only lambs and yearlings were eligible.

In addition, seven commodities — green onions, pistachios, peppermint, spearmint, walnuts, and watermelons — became eligible for compensation for sales losses, rather than only for marketing adjustments.

In a Federal Register notice scheduled to appear today, the USDA denied CFAP eligibility to hemp, tobacco, alfalfa, goats, bison, turkeys, minks, mohair, shell and dry eggs, and classes of wheat other than hard red spring and durum. In most cases, it said price declines were not large enough to justify aid. For mink and mohair, it said there was no national price to be used as a guide. The National Association of Wheat Growers asked for all classes of wheat harvested in 2019 to be eligible, including winter wheat, the dominant U.S. wheat, and for coverage of this year’s wheat crop.

Farm and agribusiness groups asked Perdue last week to make the second round of CFAP payments, to make more commodities available for aid, to extend the August 28 deadline for applications, to use broader time frames in judging revenue losses for commodities such as nursery crops and floriculture, and to reconsider the $250,000 payment limit. Democrats on a House Agriculture subcommittee said in a letter that “CFAP has failed to provide equitable relief to the specialty crop sector.”

The Federal Register notice of commodities approved and rejected for CFAP is available here.

The Federal Register notice of change in payment rates for a handful of commodities including walnuts and watermelon is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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