Apples and potatoes will get coronavirus aid for lost sales

In a series of adjustments to its $16-billion coronavirus relief program, the USDA said on Thursday that apple, potato, and blueberry growers would now qualify for federal payments for sales lost to the pandemic. More than one-third of the money in the program has already been paid in cash to farmers and ranchers.

The National Potato Council, while applauding the USDA decision, asked for “a meaningful payment rate of at least 4 cents per pound” for all classes of potatoes. The USDA set rates that range from 1 cent for fresh potatoes to 7 cents for fresh russet potatoes.

“Many apple growers are hanging on by their fingernails, so USDA’s decision is great news and not a moment too soon,” said Jim Bair, chief executive of the trade group USApple. “Growers usually take the risks of weather and markets in stride, but the impact of Covid-19 pushed many right to the edge.” The USDA set a payment rate of 5 cents per pound for apples.

Potato and apple growers were among the many groups that asked the USDA last month to reconsider its decisions on which commodities are eligible for assistance. In the end, the USDA added three dozen commodities, from anise to okra, to the coronavirus program; said that seven products — apples, blueberries, garlic, potatoes, raspberries, tangerines, and taro — would now qualify for payments for lost sales; decided that peaches and rhubarb would no longer be part of the sales loss program; and revised payment rates for a dozen commodities.

“After reviewing the comments received and analyzing our USDA Market News data, we are adding new commodities, as well as making updates to the program for existing eligible commodities,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

To qualify for payments to offset lost sales, a price decline of at least 5 percent must be shown.