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USDA begins new round of pandemic assistance

Issue Date: April 7, 2021
By Christine Souza

A new initiative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture includes $6 billion in financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and agricultural businesses affected by COVID-19 market disruptions.

Announced in late March, the initiative—USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers—establishes new programs and efforts the agency said are intended to reach a broader set of producers, including socially disadvantaged communities, small- and medium-sized farmers and ranchers, and farmers of less traditional crops.

California Farm Bureau Director of Federal Policy Sara Arsenault said the new programs build on previously established COVID-19 aid, such as the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, in an effort to assist agriculture and rural communities.

"Programs that don't require many changes are anticipated to be implemented very quickly, whereas new programs or programs that require adjustments may take longer, as they will require additional rulemaking," Arsenault said. "These programs and funding opportunities are also more inclusive of Farm Bureau priorities, highlighting the need for additional relief around employee safety measures, timber harvesters, specialty crops and others."

USDA said 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 farmers and ranchers.

Specific to CFAP-2, USDA reopened the sign-up period for the program March 29 for at least 60 days. The USDA Farm Service Agency said it had committed at least $2.5 million to improve outreach for CFAP-2, to ensure socially disadvantaged communities are aware of the application process.

Payments issued through the program will be distributed through existing CFAP rules; however, the agency said future opportunities will be reviewed for verified need.

USDA said at least $6 billion will be dedicated to develop new programs or modify existing proposals, using discretionary coronavirus funding that went unspent by the previous administration. Efforts include assistance for dairy farmers, specialty crops and beginning farmers, organic farms, livestock producers and timber harvesting and hauling.

Jim Mulhern, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation, thanked USDA for its support of the Dairy Donation Program, which he called "a critical means for connecting nutritious dairy products with the consumers who need them." He said USDA would also examine additional payments for dairy farmers "that will better reflect the losses they have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Additionally, USDA said it would dedicate funds for personal protective equipment for farm employees, plus other protective measures for specialty crop and seafood producers and distributors.

Other funding areas focus on improving food supply chain resilience and on infrastructure support, such as distribution of perishable commodities through farm-to-school programs, restaurants or other community organizations, and reducing food waste.

USDA said it expects to invest $500 million in expedited assistance through several existing programs this spring, with most by April 30. This new assistance includes:

  • $100 million for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.
  • $75 million for the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach program.
  • $100 million for the Local Agricultural Marketing Program.
  • $75 million to conduct and evaluate projects providing incentives to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income shoppers.
  • $20 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Cattle producers with approved CFAP-1 applications will automatically receive payments in April, USDA said, estimating additional payments of more than $1.1 billion to more than 410,000 producers.

Beginning this month, USDA said it would provide additional CFAP assistance of $20 per acre for farmers of eligible crops identified as CFAP-2 flat-rate or price-trigger crops; these include alfalfa, corn, cotton, hemp, peanuts, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat. FSA said it will automatically issue payments to farmers, based on the eligible acres included on their CFAP-2 applications, so farmers do not need to submit a new application. USDA estimated additional payments of more than $4.5 billion to more than 560,000 farmers.

Additional information and eligibility criteria for the USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative may be found at www.farmers.gov.

(Christine Souza is Assistant Editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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