Apple Farmers Request Eligibility for COVID-19 Aid

In a letter written to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Tuesday, the U.S. Apple Association and other apple organizations around the country said apple farmers should be eligible for aid from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The program provides financial aid to farmers whose crops declined more than 5 percent in value during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The apple producers say that the Agricultural Marketing Service used by the USDA has data that is “far removed” from the prices growers see. They call the department’s analysis “fatally flawed” and claim apple prices did decline by 5 percent or more in the relevant time period.

“When USDA concluded that apple growers didn’t qualify because it had determined apple prices had not declined at least 5 percent between January 15 and April 15, every grower in America knew that wasn’t correct,” said Jim Bair, president and CEO of USApple in a press release. “But record-shattering stocks, combined with sluggish domestic and export movement, lead one to draw only one conclusion, apple growers have been hurt badly.”

The data used by USDA does not consider sales between packers or shippers and supermarket chains, which the apple advocacy groups claim is 95 percent of apple sales. Exports, which are typically one-third of apple sales, have declined 29 percent, according to the letter.

They also claimed many apples are still in storage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which is not factored into the sales price but represents a risk for the grower. Growers’ stocks are about  15 percent larger than the previous record and 26 percent larger than an average of the last five years. They claimed the slowing of apple shipments has an accumulating negative effect.

“Although the value of the 2019 crop is the lowest in a decade, in normal years it would exceed $4 billion at the farmgate, and approximately $15 billion in total economic activity when including downstream storage, sorting, packing, shipping, marketing, exporting and processing,” the letter states. The letter includes sales price data gathered from 43.8 million bushels, which is more than half of national sales in the period, showing the price declined between 6.5 and 24.9 percent.

“These data overwhelmingly make the case that apple growers meet USDA’s criteria for the direct financial support intended by Congress,” concluded Bair. “But, as of June 15, of the total $2.9 billion USDA has sent to more than 220,000 farmers, so far as we are aware, none has gone to an apple grower.” The groups ask the USDA to reconsider apple growers for CFAP funding.

Hemp and liquid egg producers have also reached out and requested aid from the CFAP program.