Initial USDA Coronavirus Farm Disaster Relief Announced

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On May 19, USDA announced its rule implementing the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. The rule should officially appear in the May 20 Federal Register. A link to the rule language is available here.

The rule lays out USDA’s first step in providing direct payments to livestock, dairy, and specialty crop farmers resulting from COVID-19 pandemic market disruptions. It includes sector-specific provisions for relief, as well as total payment limits. However, the rule does not yet extend access to relief funds to several agricultural sectors that do not neatly fit into a typical farm commodity model, meaning, prices and market dynamics are generally not public information and not well understood. Unfortunately, at least for now, nursery and floriculture crops fall into this category.

So for the moment, nursery and greenhouse growers find themselves in a sort of no man’s land, on one hand described in the rule as “other eligible crops,” but not yet actually eligible to apply for relief at this time.

What’s next? USDA is also publishing a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) – Additional Commodities Request for Information. It includes a number of specific questions for commodities not covered, including nursery crops. USDA has indicated that it needs affected growers to provide information in response to this notice, to help the Department determine how to structure payment rates. We urge growers hoping to be eligible to apply for relief to review the NOFA and consider responding to these questions.

Interested growers might also want to begin familiarizing themselves with the Farm Service Agency forms that will ultimately be needed to file claims. For a full list of the required forms, as well as contact information for your local FSA office, visit https://www.farmers.gov/cfap.

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted many in our industry. Since the moment the CARES Act provided USDA with funds to directly support farmers, AmericanHort has advocated for the inclusion of our industry in the CFAP program and suggested straightforward approaches for calculating COVID-related losses. We have also pushed for the raising or elimination of per-entity payment limits that would undermine the benefits of the program for producers of high-value crops like floriculture and nursery plants. As part of our advocacy campaign, AmericanHort coordinated a letter signed by 105 national and state industry organizations, farm bureaus, and farm lenders to urge inclusion of our industry in CFAP.

In the days ahead, we will continue to engage USDA, as well as Congressional and other allies, in the interest of severely impacted nurseries and greenhouses being able to apply for relief.

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