Editor’s note:
After this story was published in July’s print magazine, we posted a related web update: Apple industry appeals to USDA to revisit pandemic payment eligibility

Apple and pear growers are technically eligible for direct support from the
U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, a $16 billion program set up in late May to provide relief to producers who saw demand and prices plummet due to the coronavirus pandemic, but few were able to access benefits in the first weeks of the program.

The first wave of payment data shared by the USDA during the first week of June showed that specialty crop producers fall far behind other crop sectors when it comes to utilizing the program. Nationwide, specialty crop producers had received $8.4 million (half of that in Florida), compared to $140 million for non-specialty crops, $267 million for livestock, and $128 million for dairy. Many applications remain under review. 

To apply for benefits, producers must show they suffered a 5 percent or greater price decline from January to April or that they suffered losses due to supply chain or market disruptions, or both. Growers of any size are eligible, but payments are capped at $250,000, according to the USDA news release.

Eligible crops include apples, pears, peaches and blueberries, but not cherries. 

Specifics about the potential impact of the program for tree fruit growers was not immediately clear, but industry groups, including the Northwest Horticultural Council and the U.S. Apple Association, have reached out to the USDA seeking more clarity. Due to the lengthy storage seasons for apples and pears, price loss data can be hard for growers to document in the required time frame. 

The USDA’s Farm Service Agency is accepting applications. The agency advised producers to prepare documentation and schedule appointments by phone to work with FSA staff to file applications, which will be accepted through Aug. 28. 

More information is available online at www.farmers.gov/cfap.

Kate Prengaman

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