USDA reopens program sign-up to a larger share of producers with plans to expand outreach, new programming

Vincent Marshall
Dodge City Daily Globe

On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture is establishing new programs to bring financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and producers impacted by COVID-19 market disruptions.

The USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers, will reach a broader set of producers than previous COVID-19 aid programs with a dedication of nearly $6 billion to new programs with existing programs such as Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), falling into the new initiative.

“The pandemic affected all of agriculture, but many farmers did not benefit from previous rounds of pandemic-related assistance," said Vilsack." The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to helping as many producers as possible, as equitably as possible.

“Our new USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative will help get financial assistance to a broader set of producers, including to socially disadvantaged communities, small and medium sized producers, and farmers and producers of less traditional crops.”

According to the USDA, the USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers will have four parts. Those parts are as follows:

Part 1: Investing $6 Billion to expand help and assistance to more producers.

Nearly $6 billion will be dedicated to develop a number of new programs or modify existing proposals using discretionary funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act and other coronavirus funding that went unspent by the previous administration. Where rule making is required, it will commence in the spring.

Assistance will be included for:

· Dairy farmers through the Dairy Donation Program or other means.

· Euthanized livestock and poultry.

· Biofuels.

· Specialty crops, beginning farmers, local, urban and organic farms.

· Costs for organic certification or to continue or add conservation activities.

· Other possible expansion and corrections to CFAP that were not part of today’s announcement such as to support dairy or other livestock producers.

· Timber harvesting and hauling.

· Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other protective measures for food and farm workers and specialty crop and seafood producers, processors and distributors.

· Improving the resilience of the food supply chain, including assistance to meat and poultry operations to facilitate interstate shipment.

· Developing infrastructure to support donation and distribution of perishable commodities, including food donation and distribution through farm-to-school, restaurants or other community organizations; and reducing food waste.

Part 2: Adding $500 million of new funding to existing programs

Approximately $500 million will be invested in expedited assistance through several existing programs this spring, mostly by April 30. The new assistance includes:

· $100 million in additional funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which enhances the competitiveness of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops.

· $75 million in additional funding for the Farmers Opportunities Training and Outreach program, administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement, which encourages and assists socially disadvantaged, veteran, and beginning farmers and ranchers in the ownership and operation of farms and ranches.

· $100 million in additional funding for the Local Agricultural Marketing Program, administered by the AMS and Rural Development, which supports the development, coordination and expansion of direct producer-to-consumer marketing, local and regional food markets and enterprises and value-added agricultural products.

· $75 million in additional funding for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, administered by the NIFA, which provides funding opportunities to conduct and evaluate projects providing incentives to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers.

· $20 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to improve and maintain animal disease prevention and response capacity, including the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

· $20 million for the Agricultural Research Service to work collaboratively with Texas A&M on the critical intersection between responsive agriculture, food production, and human nutrition and health.

· $28 million for NIFA to provide grants to state departments of agriculture to expand or sustain existing farm stress assistance programs.

· Approximately $80 million in additional payments to domestic users of upland and extra-long staple cotton based on a formula set in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 that USDA plans to deliver through the Economic Adjustment Assistance for Textile Mills program.

Part 3: Carrying Out Formula Payments under CFAP 1, CFAP 2, CFAP AA

Enacted in December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, requires FSA to make certain payments to producers according to a mandated formula. The USDA will now expedite these provisions.

· An increase in CFAP 1 payment rates for cattle.

Cattle producers with approved CFAP 1 applications will automatically receive these payments beginning in April. Information on the additional payment rates for cattle can be found on farmers.gov/cfap. Eligible producers do not need to submit new applications, since payments are based on previously approved CFAP 1 applications.

USDA estimates additional payments of more than $1.1 billion to more than 410,000 producers, according to the mandated formula.

· Additional CFAP assistance of $20 per acre for producers of eligible crops identified as CFAP 2 flat-rate or price-trigger crops beginning in April. This includes alfalfa, corn, cotton, hemp, peanuts, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat, among other crops.

FSA will automatically issue payments to eligible price trigger and flat-rate crop producers based on the eligible acres included on their CFAP 2 applications. Eligible producers do not need to submit a new CFAP 2 application.

For a list of all eligible row-crops, visit farmers.gov/cfap.

USDA estimates additional payments of more than $4.5 billion to more than 560,000 producers, according to the mandated formula.

· USDA will finalize routine decisions and minor formula adjustments on applications and begin processing payments for certain applications filed as part of the CFAP Additional Assistance program in the following categories:

 — Applications filed for pullets and turfgrass sod.

 — A formula correction for row-crop producer applications to allow producers with a non-Actual Production History (APH) insurance policy to use 100% of the 2019 Agriculture Risk Coverage-County Option (ARC-CO) benchmark yield in the calculation.

 — Sales commodity applications revised to include insurance indemnities, Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program payments, and Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus payments, as required by statute and additional payments for swine producers and contract growers under CFAP Additional Assistance remain on hold and are likely to require modifications to the regulation as part of the broader evaluation and future assistance; however, FSA will continue to accept applications from interested producers.

Part 4: Reopening CFAP 2 sign-up to improve access and outreach to underserved producers

The USDA will re-open sign-up for of CFAP 2 for at least 60 days beginning on April 5.

· FSA has committed at least $2.5 million to establish partnerships and direct outreach efforts intended to improve outreach for CFAP 2 and will cooperate with grassroots organizations with strong connections to socially disadvantaged communities to ensure they are informed and aware of the application process.

To contact the writer email vmarshall@gannett.com