Jun 1, 2020
Rep. Simpson discusses how CFAP fell short with potato industry

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) didn’t do enough to clean out the backed-up potato supply chain, say industry leaders.

The relief package brought $50 million in Section 32 purchases of potatoes left over from the 2019 crop that aren’t moving due to decreased foodservice and subsequent processing demand. That isn’t nearly enough to clean out the pipe line of potatoes, said National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles in the latest “Eye on Potatoes” podcast.

The NPC is urging the federal government to buy an additional $300 million in potatoes and potato products to not only clear out what’s left of the ’19 crop to make way for this year’s harvest, but also help recreate processing demand that’s gone stagnant. Also appearing on the podcast episode is Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who Quarles cited as one of the potato industry’s biggest proponents in Congress.

Both Simpson and Quarles said one of the biggest issues with the CFAP package was the monetary limit per farming operation.

“When you get out West and even in the Midwest, farms are very large,” Simpson said. “They’re still family-owned and they’re very large. Payment limitations don’t work well.”

Quarles said the NPC and members of Congress have been communicating with the USDA on the size and scope of the decreased foodservice demand and its impact on the industry. He noted a relief package for an unprecedented situation, like the COVID-19 pandemic, was a herculean task for the USDA and it was understandable that the first wave of relief wasn’t going to fix everything.

“You’ve got 300 crops under the specialty crop banner, and the vast majority of them are having challenges fitting into this (CFAP) program,” Quarles said. “The USDA sincerely wants to get things right.

“For whatever reason, the USDA was concentrating on retail sales figures,” he added. “They said, ‘Potatoes are doing pretty well in grocery stores, so there isn’t really a problem.’ I think they are hearing loud and clear that was an error.”

Quarles’ said the two biggest goals for the next relief package are to assure that all facets of the potato industry are eligible for aid, and to raise the minimum payment limits. Simpson said he’d like to see the price paid for potatoes go up, as well.

Simpson’s branch of Congress — the House — narrowly passed the $3 trillion Heroes Act in May, but he acknowledged it won’t pass in the Senate. The Heroes Act includes $16 billion for specialty crop losses. Simpson is optimistic some of the facets of that act will be included in a Senate version of the bill, which he thinks could come in the next “two to three weeks.”

Simpson also addressed farm labor and trade with China during the podcast episode.

— By Zeke Jennings, managing editor

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P.O. Box 128
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