April 14, 2020
Apple growers worry about impacts to come
Unlike other fruit sectors, apple and pear growers are struggling to quantify the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. But they know they are witnessing challenges.
In a letter to Sec. Sonny Perdue, a coalition of tree fruit associations from California and Washington are asking that the coming USDA aid package is flexible enough to address their unique issues.
“Growers of tree fruit are suffering direct, but as yet largely unquantified, COVID-19 losses on fruit harvested in 2019,” says the letter. “Standard business practices used in our industry to pay apple and pear growers for fruit delivered last fall and sold or stored during the COVID-19 pandemic timeframe will not provide loss data until late this year.”
The industry is worried about the impacts of school and restaurant closures. They added that a summer slowdown at the border would impact the H-2A guestworker program and “would result in millions of dollars in tree fruit left unharvested.”
Newsom offers support for children of ag workers
Earlier this month, Gov. Newsom signed executive orders to prioritize the children of essential workers when it comes to childcare and other needs. The Department of Education has confirmed that this includes children of workers in the food and ag industry.
Now the governor has allocated $100 million toward supporting those childcare services. Part of that funding will help to cover the costs for cleaning facilities and purchasing protective masks and gloves.
The move comes after Western Growers raised the issue with the administration.
On that note: CDFA is compiling a list of companies that may be able to supply personal protective equipment to growers, packers and storage facilities.
AND IN NATIONAL NEWS…
Analysis puts numbers on pandemic impact
The first major analysis of the COVID-19 impact on agriculture is out, but it may underestimate the potential damage from the crisis.
The forecast by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, based at the University of Missouri, estimates net farm income in 2020 at $86 billion. That’s down 11% from the USDA’s estimate of farm earnings for 2019 and 19% below FAPRI’s earlier forecast for 2020.
Keep in mind: The new estimate for 2020 doesn’t include the $16 billion aid package USDA is preparing, and the analysis also doesn’t account for the impact of packing plant closures and other disruptions in the food supply.
Additionally, the analysis assumes the U.S. economy will rebound sharply in the latter half of the year. Many economists are predicting the damage to the economy from the COVID-19 shutdown will last far longer.
Take note: Drops in commodity prices normally make U.S. commodities more competitive overseas. However, that potential advantage will be lost due to the economic declines that are taking place in other countries, says FAPRI Director Pat Westhoff.
Read more at Agri-Pulse.com.
AFBF, food banks team up on USDA appeal
The American Farm Bureau Federation and Feeding America, the national organization of food banks, have teamed up to suggest USDA offer food banks vouchers to purchase and distribute foods.
A voucher program “would deepen the relationships between farmers and food banks, allowing them to work directly with one another instead of relying upon third parties and what is sometimes a longer pathway to get food from farms to food bank shelves,” the groups say in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Feeding America, with 200-member food banks, says demand has skyrocketed and donations have declined because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a survey of its members at the end of last month, 95% of them reported higher operational expenses and 37% reported “an immediate critical funding shortfall,” the group said.
Senators make case to USDA on farm aid
Groups of senators sent a series of letters to USDA on Monday appealing for COVID-19 relief on the behalf of dairy producers, produce and other specialty crop growers, and local ag systems.
A bipartisan letter led by the top Democrat on the Senate Ag Committee, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow, and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein says horticulture, floriculture, and nursery plants have been hurt along with the produce industry, which was hammered by the loss of restaurant and food service customers.
The letter asks Perdue to provide direct payments to all eligible producers in specialty crop sectors “who have lost revenue and are experiencing increased production costs related to COVID-19.” Twenty-seven other senators signed the letter.
China lives up to regionalization pledge
For the first time, China hasn’t reacted to a bird flu outbreak in the U.S. with a complete ban on all poultry. Instead, it issued a statewide ban on only poultry from South Carolina – the same as most foreign countries did in response to the outbreak in a turkey flock U.S. officials say has been contained.
China agreed during negotiations of the “phase one” trade deal to regionalize any reaction to bird flu outbreaks, and Agri-Pulse confirmed last month that China had changed its policy as promised. But last week was the first real test.
In fact, the Chinese went further, announcing that even poultry produced in South Carolina would be accepted, so long as it heat-processed.
She said it:
“The CARES Act does not go far enough to sustain small farms through this difficult time; they need urgent and direct loan forgiveness so they can continue maintaining operations, paying their workers, and keeping food on Americans’ tables.” – Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. She is proposing that a future stimulus bill provide debt forgiveness of up to $250,000 for Farm Service Agency loans.
Steve Davies and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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