The reopening of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program announced on March 24 by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was received well by a key Senate Agriculture Committee and industry representatives for farmers and ranchers.

The reopening of the CFAP was part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative, created to help producers impacted by COVID-19. Sign-ups for the new program begin April 5.

“The agriculture industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and many producers are still recovering from the impacts to our food processors, supply chains, and commodity markets,” said Sen. Roger Marshall, R-KS. “Through all of this, our hard-working farmers and ranchers never missed a day of work, and it is important that we continue to provide them with the assistance and support they need to continue operating. I am happy to see USDA deliver on Congress’s promise to farmers and ranchers and deliver the final round of CFAP assistance.”

Provisions include:

• CFAP to resume for crops and livestock. For livestock, payments will be automatically issued based on past applications. For crops, $20 per acre on eligible crops, which includes: alfalfa, corn, cotton, hemp, sorghum, soybeans and wheat. Payments will be automatically issued based on past applications.

• $100 million in additional funding for the Local Agricultural Marketing Program, administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service 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.

• $28 million for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to provide grants to state departments of agriculture to expand or sustain existing farm stress assistance programs.

• $6 billion to expand help and assistance to more producers including: 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.

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

• Euthanized livestock and poultry.

• Biofuels.

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

Groups react

Vilsack shared details of the new plan during a virtual meeting with state Farm Bureau presidents and American Farm Bureau leadership.

“We appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s action to release funds and expand eligibility for farmers hit hard by the devastating effects of COVID-19,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “USDA’s decision to distribute aid based upon previous applications will help deliver assistance quickly. It was good to hear directly from the Secretary today about this program and his priorities going forward.”

The funding includes $6 billion to develop new programs or modify existing proposals using remaining discretionary funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act. USDA expects this to include funding for personal protective equipment, compensation to offset the pandemic’s impact on biofuels, specialty crops and farmers forced to euthanize animals due to supply chain issues, among other uses.

Another $5.6 billion will be directed to formula payments to cattle producers and eligible flat-rate or price trigger crops. In addition, $500 million in new funding is included for existing programs such as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Farmers Opportunities Training and Outreach Program, Local Agricultural Marketing Program, Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Adjustment Assistance for Textile Mills Program.

AFBF urges USDA to quickly accomplish the needed regulatory changes to deliver assistance to contract livestock and poultry growers who have yet to receive aid, despite specific authorization from Congress.

Throughout the pandemic, National Farmers Union has urged USDA to ensure that aid is distributed “fairly and equitably” and that “payments are commensurate with demonstrated need.” In a statement, NFU President Rob Larew thanked the agency for reevaluating its methods and taking steps to serve farmers who were initially excluded.

“Federal assistance has been absolutely fundamental to the agriculture industry’s survival during the pandemic. Unfortunately, as National Farmers Union has pointed out, some farmers—particularly those who are socially disadvantaged, run smaller operations, grow specialty crops, or sell into local and value-added markets—have been largely unable to access the help they need due to inadequate outreach and structural flaws. Because those producers already tend to lack financial security, we were concerned that the lack of support could lead to a wave of farm closures.

“We appreciate USDA’s recognition of these issues and efforts to rectify them with the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. This sensible approach will help reach farmers who have previously been excluded from relief programs and keep them in business. As the agency implements this plan, we stand ready to provide further input on how to distribute resources in an effective and equitable manner.”

The CFAP was created in March 2020 as part of the CARES Act to provide financial assistance to farmers and ranchers impacted by the pandemic, Marshall said. In December 2020, Congress appropriated $11.2 billion to allow for a third payment to farmers and ranchers through CFAP. Upon review of CFAP by the Joe Biden administration, farmers and ranchers will now be eligible to receive a third round of CFAP funding as part of the Pandemic Assistance for Producers program. Farmers and livestock owners previously enrolled in the program will automatically receive the third round of payments.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or dbergmeier@hpj.com.

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