What local foods producers need to know about CFAP 

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The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now accepting applications for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) from producers who have experienced a price decrease, or were unable to market their crops or livestock due to COVID-19.

Diversified and local producers should consider the following when deciding whether to apply:

What commodities are eligible?

To be eligible for CFAP, a producer must have been producing or have had an eligible commodity (livestock or crop) in their inventory from Jan. 15 to April 15. These commodities include fruits and vegetables, such as sweet corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers; livestock, such as cattle, hogs, and sheep; dairy; and wool. Among the commodities not included are poultry, eggs, alfalfa, and winter wheat. For a detailed list of what is eligible, click here

There are three main categories that might make a product eligible—if the product suffered a 5 percent or greater price decline between Jan. 15 and April 15, if the product shipped but then spoiled due to loss of market, and if shipments never left the farm or if mature crops remained unharvested. The payment rate may vary for each category, even if the crop is the same. 

Producers don’t need to prove a 5 percent price decrease on an individual level, but will need to provide proof of produce shipping and spoiling, or mature crops remaining unharvested. For local foods producers who have a highly diversified operation, this means the application process will require more paperwork than for someone who grows three or four crops. 

There are no minimum gross sales to meet to qualify, but products need to have been intended to sell.

Will the USDA expand which crops and livestock are eligible?

The USDA is asking for input on expanding the types of crops and livestock eligible for payments. Comments, which are due by June 22, can be submitted at regulations.gov.

Here are some of the comments that have been submitted so far.

Producers needing assistance with this process are encouraged to reach out to the Center for Rural Affairs staff, at annaj@cfra.org or andreah@cfra.org, or 402-687-2100. The USDA will be more likely to accept a suggestion if  price data about the commodity can be shared, and if several farmers and ranchers offer similar feedback and data. 

How will payments be calculated? 

Perhaps the most important thing for local producers to know is that the payment rates are based on a set wholesale commodity price given by USDA, and will be multiplied by volume. This means that payment will not reflect the higher prices a producer might typically get for organic, grass-fed, or value-added products.  

To estimate your potential payment, check out USDA’s payment calculator or read through these case studies.  

How do producers apply?

Applications will be processed through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). Producers should call their local FSA office to set up an appointment.. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, FSA officials are only conducting business by phone or email at this time.

Is an FSA farm number needed to apply?

Currently, producers do not need to have registered for an FSA farm number in order to apply, though it is possible this may change as the program moves forward. There is no cost to get a number and there is no minimum acreage to register. For more information on this process, contact your local FSA office. Documents, such as a driver’s license or social security card, and proof of control of the land, such as a deed, a lease, or rental agreement, will be needed for the application process. 

What do producers need to know if they’ve never worked with FSA before?

Here are some resources producers can use if this is the first time they’ve interacted with their local FSA office. 

Producers can call the FSA hotline (1-877-508-8364) to request technical assistance in preparing materials for their CFAP application. Applications need to go through a county office, but it doesn’t have to be the county office nearest the applicant. Farmers can submit applications to any FSA county office either by mail, email, or fax. 

Applicants encouraged to ask for electronic receipts of any service received over the phone. FSA is required to provide receipts for service upon request explaining why they were approved for or denied a service. 

Producers who have not applied for an FSA program before, will need to fill out additional forms, such as conservation compliance. Click here for a list of forms.

Is support offered in languages other than English?

The CFAP hotline (877-508-8364) offers services in Spanish, but the number of operators may be limited. CFAP fact sheets and the application are available in Spanish at farmers.gov/cfap.

What information is needed to apply? 

The application for CFAP is a two-page, self-certified form. As a self-certified form, applicants agree to be honest about the information and documents they submit, but they aren’t vetted at the time of submitting the application. 

Farmers can submit the required documentation up to 60 days after the application is submitted, but payments will not be made until all documentation is received.  The documentation needed varies by  product. For example, beans and broccoli qualify for all three categories (price decline, spoiling after shipment, and left unharvested), while celery, garlic, and mushrooms are eligible for the spoiling after shipment and left unharvested categories. Whether producers have one eligible commodity or many, they only need to submit one application. Though the CFAP application is short, it will take longer for diversified operations to gather all of the documents needed. Because of this, it’s important for local producers and diversified operations to look through the list of eligible commodities before pulling all of the documents required for application. 

To protect themselves and their operation, producers should keep good documentation on how much of each product they grow on how many acres. They will need to keep the relevant documents for three years. 

When is the application deadline?

The deadline to apply for CFAP funding is Aug. 28. The USDA has said that CFAP is not a first-come, first-served program, therefore, taking longer to submit an application won’t hurt a producer's chances. However, we encourage applying sooner rather than later. 

How can producers give feedback on programs like CFAP?

Farm Aid and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) are working to understand the impact and reach of federal COVID-19 relief programs. Producers are encouraged to provide feedback on their experience through this survey.