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What’s it like to apply for CFAP?
Applications for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) have been open since late May. As of June 15, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) has received more than 220,280 applications from farmers seeking a share of the $16 billion in direct payments available. More than $2 billion in payments have been processed by FSA to date. So far, the states to receive the most CFAP funds are Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kansas, and Minnesota.
- READ MORE: CFAP applications open May 26
While many farmers are thankful for the aid, some segments of the agriculture industry believe they’ve been unfairly left out.
What about eggs?
A majority of the eggs laid in Iowa are sold to the liquid egg market. Because liquid eggs are mostly used in restaurants and schools, laying farms suffered dramatic disruption from pandemic related closures. State leaders say the market saw a 68% price decline and egg farmers need to be included in CFAP assistance to stay afloat.
On June 2, Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, governor Kim Reynolds, and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig sent a letter to Secretary Perdue urging USDA to include egg producers in CFAP support. They noted, in the state of Iowa the egg industry is responsible for $2.6 billion in economic activity.
Is there hope for hemp?
Jonathan Miller serves as general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable and says the hemp industry has also suffered a tremendous fall in prices, in part due to the pandemic. Hemp farmers have been excluded from CFAP assistance, so far.
Depending on the product, prices have fallen up to 45% from January to April 2020, Miller says. The pandemic created labor and transportation disruption in the hemp supply chain. Also, many of the brick and mortar retailers of hemp products were forced to close temporarily, causing further stress. “We are hopeful that the USDA will change its initial opinion and will permit hemp farmers to apply for the funding in the CFAP program,” Miller says.
A Wisconsin crop and dairy farmer
More than 13,000 applications for CFAP direct payments have been received in Wisconsin. In the southcentral part of the state, Mitch Breunig was among the first to apply. With his family, Breunig has about 450 dairy cows and grows about 1,050 acres of crops. A majority of the crops are fed on the farm. The cash grain Breunig has was sold, and therefore did not qualify for CFAP assistance.
For the dairy side of the business, Breunig calls recent events a “flash disaster.” He explains, “We had to cut our milk production back 20%. With a lower price and less pounds sold, it was a pretty big shock to the cash flow system.”
To cope, Breunig was forced to dump milk and sold some cows to other farmers who had a market for their milk. “The price [for the cows] was maybe less than normal, but it seemed to me that it worked out better than dumping milk,” he says.
Now, the amount of milk the farm can ship is on the rise, and Breunig hopes to get his production numbers back up to where they were. He says, “It’s a little frustrating when people think we have the ability to turn on a dime and make it work out. It really isn’t quite that easy. We’re having to pivot all the time on a moment’s notice.”
Breunig found the CFAP application process relatively easy, thanks to the information he received from the person he regularly works with in his local FSA office.
He is optimistic these direct payments will speed up economic recovery from the pandemic. “The good thing about money is if you get it into the hands of farmers, they’re going to spend it and get it into circulation because there’s always something to fix or something to buy. When farmers can’t pay their bills it’s really bad for everything,” he says.
Breunig notes farmers have an especially important role to play in getting money flowing in rural communities that are beginning to open again.
A Montana grain and livestock producer
In Montana, 3,537 CFAP applications and more than $37 million in payments have been processed by FSA, so far.
Michelle Jones’ family has a cow, calf operation and row crops in south central Montana. Because of the pandemic, their barley contracts were cut in half for the 2020 growing season. Jones regularly works with her local FSA office and sent in her application right away when the CFAP program opened.
Although the Jones family has a diversified operation, only a bit of unpriced hard red spring wheat and their cow, calf pairs qualified for CFAP. Many of the supported crops they grow, such as sunflowers, were already sold, and thus disqualified.
“I do a lot of work in policy and I think it just highlights why ad hoc policies are so hard to make. They’re going to draw lines in the sand that don’t really make sense, or they’re not going to be able to calculate everything that should be taken into account,” she explains.
As a wheat farmer, Jones says it’s frustrating when wheat is separated into classes for policy purposes, creating winners and losers based on location. “It draws geographical lines that we have really tried to avoid,” Jones says. “If we’re going to advocate for the hard red spring wheat producer, we’re going to lobby for equal treatment for the soft red producer in Missouri or the soft white producer in Washington. Wheat gets really complex below the surface, but on a 10,000-foot level, we’re all wheat producers. Ad hoc will always draw winners and losers, but we try not to do that within individual commodities.”
Like Breunig, Jones is thankful for the CFAP funds that have been made available but knows the payment her farm will receive, less than $8,000, won’t begin to cover the economic damage to the markets she produces for. Hopefully, that payment will get the operation closer to breaking even, but Jones doesn’t expect it to make them profitable.
She’s concerned about the mental health of farmers, particularly in northern Montana where the pandemic challenges are compounded by multiple years of unfavorable weather.
A Wisconsin dairyman
Kris Scheider is the herd manager for his family’s 108-year-old dairy farm southeast of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Most of his days are on the farm caring for about 1,000 cows, but Scheider also helps with some of the marketing and FSA programs.
He feels fortunate, although their income was cut, the farm did not have to dump milk as the supply chain struggled through the beginning of the pandemic. Most of the farm’s milk is made into mozzarella cheese for frozen pizza.
Right after sign up began in late May, Scheider completed the CFAP application for the family’s LLC. He says the online application process was very easy, but just to make sure he was putting the right numbers in the right spot he called his local FSA office. By the time his questions were answered, Scheider says he spent about two hours applying.
After completing the application, Scheider realized the payment was not going to be what he was hoping for, but will help the farm keep making payments to their vendors and bank. The CFAP payment is not “make or break” for Scheider’s farm, but he fears it will be for some dairies in his area. He encourages all farmers to take advantage of the available funds.
Applying for CFAP
CFAP applications will be accepted through August 28, 2020. Producers can apply through their local FSA office. Visit farmers.gov for details.