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Revisions to farm relief program could help some potato growers

Revisions to USDA’s coronavirus farm relief program may result in more potato farmers being eligible to receive financial assistance due to losses related to COVID-19, but the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program is not expected to provide much help to wheat and potato farmers.

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – The recent revisions that USDA made to its coronavirus farm relief program are expected to provide some relief to potato farmers who have been financially impacted by COVID-19.

But the changes to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program aren’t expected to provide much help to most Idaho wheat and barley farmers who have suffered financial losses due to the reaction to the coronavirus outbreak.

The federal CFAP program, which was announced April 17, will provide $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers impacted by COVID. The initial parameters of the program meant Idaho spud farmers, as well as most wheat and barley growers, would have received little if any of the funds.

But revisions to the program announced by USDA in July will result in some spud growers being eligible to receive financial assistance. Most Idaho wheat and barley growers, however, won’t receive much help from CFAP.

Potatoes, wheat and barley rank as the No. 1, 2 and 5 crops in Idaho in terms of farm-cash receipts. Idaho leads the nation in potato and barley production and ranked fifth last year in total wheat production.

Together, those three crops brought in an estimated $1.9 billion in farm-cash receipts last year in Idaho.

The revisions to the coronavirus farm relief program “will better address the needs of the Idaho potato industry,” Idaho Potato Commission officials stated in one of their regular email updates. The update said the “newly announced revisions to the CFAP program will better reflect the intricacies of the potato industry by categorizing potatoes based on their production purposes and widely varying markets.”

“While these revised payments cannot fully offset the severe market disruption caused by COVID-19, they will help more Idaho potato farmers gain eligibility for CFAP,” the IPC update states.

IPC Commissioner Randy Hardy, a potato farmer from Oakley, said the amount of assistance to spud farmers will vary depending on their situation. In general, he said, farmers who produce Russet potatoes for the fresh market will get more assistance than those who grow spuds for processors.

Hardy is a member of Sun Valley Potato Growers, a potato farmer cooperative. “Our growers (for Sun Valley) are pretty pleased with the CFAP revisions but I’ve heard from growers who aren’t,” he said. “We’re fortunate to get what we got and I hope it helps some guys.”

USDA revised its parameters for potatoes in the CFAP program after industry leaders sent the department information and documentation making the case for spuds to receive more assistance from the program.

National and state wheat and barley organizations also made their cases to USDA but the revisions aren’t expected to significantly change how much assistance wheat and barley farmers receive from CFAP.

The revisions to CFAP announced by USDA didn’t include any substantial change for barley, said Idaho Barley Commission Administrator Laura Wilder.

“It doesn’t appear barley growers will get any substantial help,” she said. “I’m not hopeful we’ll see much for barley growers at this point.”

“Basically, the revisions didn’t do much at all for barley,” said Teton grain farmer Dwight Little. “Barley didn’t fare too well in” the CFAP program.

The farmers who grow most of the wheat in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest will not receive any assistance from CFAP, according to industry leaders.

Hard and soft red winter wheat, and hard and soft white wheat account for the majority of wheat grown in the PNW but did not meet USDA’s price loss requirements for CFAP, according to Idaho Grain Producers Association officials.

In a letter IGPA sent to USDA, it made the case for why those classes of wheat should also be eligible for CFAP payments.

Wheat farmers fall within the parameters for loss, the IGPA letter states, but the methodology used by USDA to calculate the price loss “neglects to incorporate price drops between January and April when wheat farmers were marketing their crop. It also does not account for local cash prices that farmers were receiving, which were less than futures prices in many areas of the country.”

But those classes of wheat were not included on a list of additional commodities now eligible for CFAP payments that was announced by USDA in July.

In an industry email update, IGPA Executive Director Stacey Satterlee said the industry “is looking ahead to the next aid package and how to ensure wheat and barley farmers are eligible.”

Barley industry leaders are also pushing to ensure growers of that crop receive some meaningful assistance in any future aid packages, Wilder said.

“We’re hopeful that there will be more for barley in the next package but that’s yet to be seen at this point,” she said.