Some Win, Some Don't,
by Don Jenkins
The USDA on Tuesday extended COVID-19 relief to nurseries, sheep ranchers and producers of dozens of other farm goods, while turning down aid to dozens of other commodities.
Washington hop and wheat farmers were among those who were denied. USDA said there wasn't evidence their prices slumped by 5% or more between mid-January and mid-April as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
Hop Growers of Washington Executive Director Ann George said the industry's losses were in fewer acres planted under contract, a response to bars, restaurants, sporting events and other outlets for craft beer closing.
"I frankly feel the USDA picked winners and losers," she said. "It should have been opened up to all producers and allowed individuals to justify their losses. It's unfortunate that producers who didn't fit their mold weren't allowed to do that."
The $16 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program was set up in April to compensate farmers and ranchers for price drops and supply-chain disruptions caused by COVID-19. The USDA in May asked for comments on extending relief to a wider range of farm products. The agency received more than 1,740 comments.
The Washington Association of Wheat Growers asked the USDA to extend coverage to soft white winter wheat, hard red winter wheat and soft red winter wheat.
The USDA declined, sticking to offer aid for only red hard spring and durum wheat, leaving out a majority of the wheat grown in Washington. Soft white winter wheat alone makes up 80% of the Eastern Washington crop, according to the association.
"They are not covering the majority of the wheat crop in the United States," the association's executive director, Michelle Hennings, said.
The USDA said the rejected wheat varieties didn't drop in price by at least 5% from mid-January to mid-April. The association argued that was too narrow of a view and didn't take into account sharp price drops from late January to mid-March.
Hennings said she hoped the association's remarks will influence the USDA if there is more COVID-19 relief coming.
"We really thought that we needed to take part in the comment period to tell them how we think they should look at wheat," she said." "We are disappointed in the announcement, but our focus now is on the 2020 crop."
To date, USDA has distributed some $7 billion to 521,853 applicants. Cattlemen, dairymen, hog farmers, and corn and soybean growers have received more than 90% of the pay out, according to the USDA's running tally.
Idaho producers have received $146.5 million, while Washington farmers have received $70.4 million and Oregon's $66.8 million. California producers have received $378.4 million.
Washington sweet cherries were among the crops that had no chance of qualifying. The crop wasn't being sold or picked between mid-January and mid-April, so prices couldn't drop and the harvest couldn't be interrupted.
Nevertheless, COVID-19 drove up production costs, particularly for housing, Northwest Horticultural Council President Mark Powers said.
Powers said he hopes for another round of relief that will take into account coronavirus-related production costs. "We'll see what come out of Congress. Hopefully, there'll be additional assistance for all our growers," he said.
The list of rejected crops was long and included goat milk, feed barley, wine grapes, lavender, alfalfa and hemp. Makers of wine, cheese and raisins asked for relief, but as processed foods didn't quality, according to the USDA.
Nevertheless, the accepted list reflected agriculture's diversity. Pay outs by industry so far have ranged from $3 billion to cattle producers to $225 to growers of the herb marjoram.
An anonymous Washington farmer wrote the USDA and said he lost $600,000 on 20 acres of leeks when his restaurant customers closed. The USDA added leeks to the list.
The expanded list also includes all sheep. Previously, compensation was limited to losses involving lambs under 2 years old.
The list also now includes nursery crops and cut flows. No way exists to track prices for thousands of plants and flowers, according to the USDA, but many growers wrote in testifying to losses.
The newly eligible crops include the following specialty crops:
Aloe leaves, bananas, bataks, bok choy, carambola (starfruit), cherimoya, chervil (french parsley), citron, curry leaves, daikon, dates, dill, donqua (winter melon), dragon fruit (red pitaya), endive, escarole, filberts, frisee; horseradish, kohlrap, kumquats, leeks, mamey sapote, maple sap, mesculin mix, microgreens, nectarines, parsley, persimmons, plantains, pomegranates, pummelos, pumpkins, rutabagas, shallots, tangelos, turnips/celeriac, turmeric, upland/wintercress, water cress, yautial/malanga and yucca/cassava.
The USDA has pushed back the date to apply for relief to Sept. 11. To start applying, the agency recommended calling the Farm Service Agency at 877-508-8364.
Above-average Yields Seen for NW Wheat by Matthew Weaver, Capital Press, 8/7/20
Experts: Wheat Prices 'Fairly Firm,' Could Go Higher by Matthew Weaver, Capital Press, 12/3/19
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