Newhouse, Upton call on USDA to ensure pandemic support for specialty crop producers

U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Fred Upton (R-MI) this week requested that the Trump administration provide proportional aid for specialty crop producers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As you begin administering the agriculture provisions included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, we urge that your attention and the CARES Act relief initially target those growers facing severe financial distress and immediate economic collapse, such as the specialty crop growers who count on a majority of their business supplying restaurants, hotels and other foodservice outlets, which have been shuttered by government-mandated orders,” according to an April 13 letter they sent to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

U.S. Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX) also signed the letter, in which the congressmen noted that specialty crop producers face significant hardship due to the pandemic’s impact on demand and prices for a number of their agriculture commodities.

For instance, due to a “catastrophic drop” in demand for certain products, many growers have cut production, although they’ve already purchased inputs, prepped the ground, and in some cases, planted crops, according to their letter.

“As you develop the structure of USDA’s support for growers, it is imperative that consideration be given to the historical production of key commodities and that your support programs take into consideration these immediate cuts in contract purchases that cause the harshest market impact,” wrote Rep. Newhouse, Rep. Upton, and their colleagues. “The CARES Act relief should take into account these abrupt market changes caused by the government-mandated closure of foodservice and institutions.”

The lawmakers also wrote that many of these crops are not traditionally covered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) suite of safety-net programs so USDA should ensure that specialty growers be made aware of and utilize the FSA disaster protocol.

“Secretary Perdue, we commend you for the tireless focus that you and the entire department have placed on ensuring the U.S. food supply is sound and moving forward,” the congressmen wrote. “We can’t overstate the importance of that to the health and safety of U.S. consumers and the entire agriculture and food value chain.”