Potatoes currently aren’t eligible for Category 1 payments
By Diego Flammini
The U.S. potato sector is asking the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make potatoes eligible for equitable access to payments under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).
The National Potato Council (NPC) and other state potato organizations have sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asking the USDA to allow potatoes to receive Category 1 payments under the CFAP. Crops like almonds, tomatoes and cucumbers can receive these payments, which are the highest of the CFAP’s three-category system.
For a crop to be eligible for Category 1 payment, it must have experienced a five percent or greater price decline between Jan. 15 and April 15 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
USDA data shows potato prices didn’t change much, but government data isn’t telling the whole story, said Kam Quarles, CEO of the NPC.
“That data only covered 6.5 percent of all potato transactions in the U.S., so it was a very limited dataset that (USDA) made their determination on,” he told Farms.com. “It only looked at retail and grocery store sales of fresh potatoes. When we looked comprehensively at transactions that take place, we found slightly more than a 20 percent price loss during that reference period.”
The price for seed potatoes fell from $0.13 per pound on Jan 15 to $0.11/lb. on April 15. That decline represents a drop of about 15 percent, the NPC’s letter states.
Potatoes are eligible for Category 2 payments of $.04/lb., which apply to produce that was shipped but spoiled because of market losses, and Category 3 payments of $.01/lb. Category 3 is for shipments that didn’t leave the farm or mature crops that went unharvested.
“We need the USDA to come in and establish a Category 1 payment so our producers can receive it,” Quarles said.
The potato industry isn’t the only one seeking further CFAP support.
Organizations representing other fruit and vegetable crops are making similar requests.
But it could be weeks before any of the groups hear back from the USDA.
“It’s a federal rule-making process by which they would change the direct payment program they originally unveiled,” Quarles said. “A number of different commodity (groups) have applied to be part of the program. USDA, by law, has to consider these comments, which could take a number of weeks.”