USDA CFAP Revision “Big Deal” For Blueberry Growers

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Pictured are highbush blueberries.

By Clint Thompson

Thursday was a win for blueberry farmers, especially in Georgia. The crop was one of seven currently eligible commodities to be added to Category 1 of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program by the United States Department of Agriculture.

According to the USDA press release, the USDA found these commodities had a 5% or greater price decline between mid-January and mid-April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, these commodities were only eligible for marketing adjustments, which Florida blueberry farmer Ryan Atwood believes would not have helped growers like himself at all.

“Not many individuals qualified for 2 or 3. But everyone in Florida is going to qualify, just about for Category 1. That’s why it is a big deal,” Atwood said.

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.

Atwood, who lives in Mount Dora, Florida is one of the state’s blueberry leaders. He farms 56 acres of blueberries, manages another 350 acres and is part-owner of the largest packing house in the Southeast United States.

Early Crop This Year

Atwood’s and other farmers’ blueberry crops were early this year due to a mild winter, and high temperatures in January and February accelerated growth. However, when he started picking high volumes of blueberries, which was around March 18, that is when the pandemic shut down the country.

Market prices reflected the pandemic’s impact. Atwood said in late April that the market was 50% of the historical average price, so half of the money of what you would typically get because of the coronavirus.

That is why the USDA’s revision to include blueberries in Category 1 was a major win for the industry.

“There’s a lot of people that are going to need that. It’s going to help them make it to next season. I know people that are getting loans and doing what they can and getting by, but every little bit helps get you there,” Atwood said.

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