The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled May 19 the details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, created in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program provides direct payments to farmers and ranchers to partially offset COVID-19-related losses for livestock, dairy, non-specialty crops and specialty crops. A large number of specialty crops were the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program-eligible but many more were initially ineligible due to a lack of publicly available price data showing a 5 percent or greater price decline.

Looking for guidance to determine if the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program should be expanded to include additional agricultural commodities or modified for already eligible commodities, the USDA issued a notice of funding availability. Following a comment period, the USDA announced July 9 updates to specialty-crop eligibility under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. This article discusses those changes.

Review specialty-crop details

Specialty-crop producers are eligible for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments if they

  • had crops that suffered a 5-percent-or-greater price decline for sales that occurred between mid-January and mid-April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • had produce shipped but subsequently spoiled due to loss of marketing channel or
  • had shipments that did not leave the farm or mature crops that remained unharvested.

Specialty crops originally eligible for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program assistance included almonds, apples, artichokes, asparagus, avocados, beans, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, grapefruit, kiwifruit, lemons, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, mushrooms, dry onions, green onions, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, pecans, bell-type peppers, other peppers, potatoes, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, squash, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tangerines, taro, tomatoes, walnuts and watermelons.

Depending on the crop and loss type, payment rates ranged from $0.01 per pound for dry onions to $1.45 per pound for raspberries. Producers will receive 80 percent of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payment in one lump sum. Figures 1 and 2 show the payment rates for specialty crops and associated category type as first announced by the USDA.

The USDA’s expansion of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program eligibility for specialty crops adds 42 commodities to the program – alfalfa sprouts, anise, arugula, basil, bean sprouts, beets, blackberries, Brussels sprouts, celeriac or celery root, chives, cilantro, coconut, collard greens, dandelion greens, other greens not listed, guava, kale greens, Boston lettuce, green-leaf lettuce, Lolla Rossa lettuce, green-oak-leaf lettuce, red-oak-leaf lettuce, red-leaf lettuce, marjoram, mint, mustard, okra, oregano, parsnips, passion fruit, green peas, pineapples, pistachios, radicchio, rosemary, sage, savory, sorrel, table sugarcane, swiss chard, thyme and turnip-top greens. Figure 3 shows the newly eligible specialty crops and associated payment rates.

With the expansion of the program, the comments also influenced the USDA to amend the payment rates for 19 commodities that were included in the initial Coronavirus Food Assistance Program rollout. Those commodities include apples, artichokes, asparagus, blueberries, cantaloupe, cucumbers, garlic, kiwifruit, mushrooms, papaya, peaches, fresh russet potatoes, fresh other potatoes, processed potatoes, potato seeds, raspberries, rhubarb, tangerines and taro. Potatoes were divided into fresh russets, other fresh, processing and seed; payment rates were applied accordingly. The USDA determined that peaches and rhubarb no longer qualify for payment under the CARES Act sales-loss category, Category 1. Figure 4 shows the change from the original payment rates announced in May to the updated details as of July 10.

The final change the USDA made in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program update for specialty crops includes a Commodity Credit Corporation payment rate based on acres rather than pounds. For Category 3 funding, payments are made for crop shipments that didn’t leave the farm by April 15, 2020 – such as those that were harvested but left sitting in crates on the farm. Payments can also be made for crops that were donated or for mature crops that were unharvested by April 15, crops that needed to be plowed under due to lack of buyers, or crops that have not been and will not be sold. Figure 5 shows the updated payment rate per acre each specialty crop is eligible to receive.

Summary

The USDA has expanded eligibility of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program direct assistance to 42 more specialty crops and has amended eligibility for 19 others. While the adjustments assist producers of those crops in managing the volatility that has occurred because of COVID-19, other commodities are still not addressed in any kind of COVID-19 assistance – including nursery, horticulture, aquaculture and certain livestock.

The USDA began accepting applications July 13 for the expanded specialty-crop commodities. If a producer submitted a Coronavirus Food Assistance Program application for a previously ineligible commodity and the application was rejected, the producer must submit a new application. If the producer submitted an application and was paid for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program – but also has crops that are now considered eligible or are now eligible for CARES Act funding for sales losses – the producer should not submit a new application but instead contact a Farm Service Agency office to amend the application. When requested, producers must provide supporting documentation to help verify claims. Consult the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program Payments for Specialty Crops webpage to find each eligible specialty crop and its qualified loss-category payment rate.

For producers who have already applied for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and whose commodities have experienced payment-rate increases, the FSA will automatically calculate the increase and issue a payment. For potato payments, producers will need to contact the FSA to amend the application to identify the specific type of potatoes. Producers who have already applied will not be impacted by a payment-rate decrease. Registration for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program runs through Aug. 28.

Visit www.farmers.gov/cfap/specialty for more information.

Shelby Myers is an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Market Intel. Visit www.fb.org/market-intel for more information.