Blueberry Farmer: It Was Really Like Salt in the Wound

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Florida Producer Sounds Off on Lack of Category 1 Status in CFAP

By Clint Thompson

Blueberries were left out of Category 1 status in CFAP.

While the blueberry industry was surprised as to how it was not eligible for Category 1 status in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), one Florida grower remains equally as dumbfounded.

“I was shocked when it came out. I was literally like, jaw on the ground, going how did we get left out of this deal?” said Ryan Atwood, who lives in Mount Dora, Florida and is one of the state’s blueberry leaders. “It wasn’t a great year for us. And then to get left out of Category 1, it was really like salt in the wound.”

According to https://www.farmers.gov/cfap/specialty, eligible specialty crops in CFAP are broken down into three categories:

  1. Had crops that suffered a five percent-or-greater price decline between mid-January and mid-April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,
  2. Had produce shipped but subsequently spoiled due to loss of marketing channel, and
  3. Had shipments that did not leave the farm or mature crops that remained unharvested.

Blueberries Not Included

However, blueberry farmers were not included in Category 1 status, like many other specialty crop commodities, such as almonds, beans, broccoli and cabbage for example. Atwood insists that Category 1 is where most of the farmers were impacted when the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March.

“For Florida blueberry growers, we got screwed man. We got left out of Category 1. What that was, they compared the average price of blueberry sales. But the problem is, the government, not knowing what they were doing, compared April 6 to the 10, to January 6 to the 10. Well, January 6 to 10 is the peak of the Chilean imports season. The whole United States is flooded with blueberries at that time. The Florida season, historically, we’re on the fringe edge of when North America starts. We’re in a good spot, usually,” Atwood said. “If you look at historically, we were off as much as 50% on the average price of our sales during a good part of our season. They blew it man, I don’t know how else to say it. We’re hoping that we get put back in it on Category 1.”

Comment Period

When the USDA issued CFAP on May 21, it allowed for a comment period. This could lead to amendments being made to the guidelines set forth for blueberry producers. That is what industry leaders are hoping for.

Atwood farms 56 acres of blueberries, manages another 350 acres and is part-owner of the largest packing house in the Southeast United States. He said the market impact from the pandemic was where he suffered the most.

“For me personally, I can’t speak for everyone in the industry, I picked all of my fruit, it was just that price was not good,” Atwood said. “It all stacked up in the coolers for 7 to 10 days until people started to figure out that life wasn’t ending, and they could go to work. By the time the world went back to normal, there was a surplus of everything out of there. Unfortunately, when that happens, that’s the only way to move that surplus from the marketer side of it, they just lower the price.”

USDA is accepting applications through August 28, 2020. Learn more at farmers.gov/cfap.