Financial relief for agriculture industry excludes WA apple growers

Lawmakers, industry leaders ask for reconsideration from USDA

Finding federal relief funding during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for many business owners but for one of Washington’s leading exports – getting relief isn’t possible.

The United States Department of Agriculture is offering relief to farmers and ranchers across the US through the CARES Act. Specifically they can apply through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to receive funding. Several commodities are listed by the USDA online as ‘eligible’ including apples but the USDA says apple growers do not qualify. The eligible commodities are listed as follows:

  • Dairy
  • Wool
  • Livestock including cattle, hogs and sheep
  • Wool
  • Non-specialty crops such as malting barley, canola, corn, upland cotton, millet, oats, soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers, durum wheat and hard red spring wheat
  • Specialty crops to include fruits such as apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwifruit, lemons, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes and watermelons. Vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, dry onions, green onions, peppers, potatoes, rhubarb, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes and taro. Nuts such as almonds, pecans and walnuts. Other specialty crops include beans and mushrooms.

Washington and Oregon are included in the top 10 states with the largest apple production in the US. The industry produces approximately $15 billion in the US each year. In 2019, the cost of the apple hit a decade low but growers and producers dealt with retaliatory tariffs due to an international trade war. Harvest is set to being later this summer but without adequate funding and assistance, the apple industry could be further impacted.

To qualify for the CFAP through the CARES Act, and industry must “have suffered a five-percent-or-greater price decline or who had losses due to market supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 and face additional significant market costs.”

US lawmakers and apple industry leaders are now asking the USDA to reconsider the eligibility of apple growers for the program due to a steep price decline in the product that “clearly makes apple growers eligible for CFAP payments based on the USDA’s requirement of a 5 percent-or-greater price decline between mid-January and mid-April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Jim Bair Statement Cares ActA bipartisan letter was sent by US Rep Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) and Rep Elise Stefanik (R-NY) to the USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. The letter was signed by 25 legislators and details apple growers as “the backbones of rural communities.”

Another letter to the USDA includes comments from industry leaders, like the US Apple Association President and CEO, Jim Bair. That letter was sent on June 16 to the Farm Service Agency of the USDA asking officials to reevaluate the data used to determine eligibility. The letter reads “USDA used its own Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) terminal data that are far removed from the prices received by growers, are often merely offerings and not actual sales, and can represent quantities as small as one bushel. Therefore, the Department’s analysis is fatally flawed, and its determination that apple prices during the January 15-April 15, 2020 study period had not declined by 5 percent or more is incorrect.”

Data listed in the letter depicts a devastating turn in profits for the apple industry across the US. Several organizations including the Northwest Horticultural Council, U.S. Apple Association, Washington Apple Commission, Washington State Fruit Commission and Washington State Tree Fruit Association signed the letter to the USDA.

“The Washington Apple commission really just is supportive of the Northwest horticulture council and U S Apple association and legislators and their work on behalf of the Washington Apple industry,” Communications Outreach Specialist, Toni Lynn Adams with the Washington Apple Commission said.

Northwest apple growers have been forced to navigate new markets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adams says everyone in the industry is trying to find their way as things change.

“It’s more of just a shifting dynamic than we’ve really seen and kind of a forced shifting dynamic,” Adams said.

She said the Washington apple industry faced multiple tariffs before the COVID-19 pandemic but still consistently exported products to other countries. India is the third largest export for Washington apples but as the pandemic continues, they are experiencing a change in the market. Less people there are buying apples. Adams said the the 2017-2018 season, the industry shipped 8 million boxes of apples. In the 2019-2020 season, they have shipped 1.9 million. Domestic production has increased though, with more families stocking up on supplies as they work and do schooling from home.

“There has been this drop, but you know, the industry has continued to provide this staple product in people’s diet that they depend on,” Adams said, “It’s healthy and nutritious, and we want to make sure it’s continuing to be available to both our consumers here at home in the U S and worldwide. I do encourage all the suppliers and applaud the suppliers for all their efforts to continuing to make sure that there was food available during this time.”

The USDA has not responded to the letters from lawmakers or apple industry leaders. The agency is expected to respond in July.