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Guest Opinion: Farmer aid program will help many, but is designed to help largest farmers most

By Anna Johnson

In approving a $9.5 billion agriculture relief package in March, Congress asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use the funds to support producers, including livestock, specialty crops and local food producers.

However, USDA’s new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) includes multiple provisions designed to allow the largest producers to side-step normal payment limitations, and provides almost no support for small producers selling to local markets.

First, CFAP allows operations structured as corporations, limited liability companies, or limited partnerships to receive the highest payments. Those with three shareholders who contribute substantial labor or management can receive up to $750,000, much larger than most programs.

CFAP also ignores the traditional limitation on payments to producers with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of more than $900,000. Producers with an average AGI above this limit can apply if 75 percent of their income is from farming, ranching, or forestry.

Unfortunately, allowing the largest producers to access high payments will quickly use funds, squeezing out smaller producers.

CFAP also provides little accommodation for local producers. The eligibility formulas do not suit many businesses that sell locally and the list of fruits and vegetables eligible for aid leaves out much sold through local channels. Furthermore, there are no apparent provisions for producers selling meat or eggs locally.

Producers seeking to apply should call their local Farm Service Agency office or visit farmers.gov/cfap to learn more.

While CFAP will support many producers, USDA will not know of these shortcomings unless it hears from producers, so don’t hesitate to voice your concerns.

Anna Johnson is policy manager for the Center for Rural Affairs.

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