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More than $330 million available to specialty crop and cotton industries in newest installment of pandemic relief.

Compiled by staff

April 14, 2021

6 Min Read
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In the agency’s ongoing efforts to address aid shortfalls in previous COVID relief provided to agricultural producers, USDA announced the availability of more than $330 million to help agricultural producers and organizations in the food supply chain recover from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding announced is part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative launched in March, and includes $169.9 million for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the availability of $75 million for Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program and approximately $80 million in payments to domestic users of upland and extra-long staple cotton.

USDA says this funding will aid in developing new markets for U.S. agricultural products, expand the specialty crop food sector and incent the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers. USDA also informed dairy producers and processors about ongoing plans for the Dairy Donation Program as established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

USDA launched the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative in March with $6.5 billion in available funding to address shortfalls and disparities in how assistance was distributed in previous COVID-19 assistance packages, with a specific focus on strengthening outreach to underserved producers and communities and small and medium agricultural operations.

“We launched USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers to respond in a broader, fairer way to the pandemic’s impact across food and agriculture, and we are following through on our promise,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in wide-ranging impacts that were felt throughout the agricultural sector. The Biden-Harris Administration is focused on ensuring that the entire agricultural sector successfully rebuilds following the pandemic, and the funding we’re announcing today will reach a broader set of producers and businesses than previous COVID-19 aid programs.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., welcomed the continued rollout of the assistance that the committee helped designate in the FY21 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

“These crucial investments will assist the ag sector in recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly bolstering our state departments of agriculture’s support for specialty crop producers as well as our cotton mills and dairy processors,” Scott says.

New assistance for cotton users

USDA will provide approximately $80 million in additional payments to domestic users of upland and extra-long staple cotton to support textile mills impacted by the pandemic. Under this one-time payment program, known as the Pandemic Assistance for Cotton Users (PACU) program, USDA will pay $.06 per pound to domestic users based on a 3-year monthly average during 2017 through 2019, covering 10 months in 2020. The program and payment formula were established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.

Consumption information previously submitted to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service by domestic cotton users as participants of the Economic Adjustment Assistance for Textile Mills and Special Competitive Provisions for Extra Long Staple Cotton will be used in determining payment. USDA will send payment certifications in support of payment issuance to EAATM and ELS program participants. USDA could begin to issue payments to domestic cotton users in mid- to late April 2021.

USDA notes if you were a user of domestic cotton anytime from January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2019 and did not participate in EAATM or ELS programs and have documentation to support your claim according to the provisions of the Act, please contact AMS’s Warehouse and Commodity Management Division.

Specialty crop support

AMS announced $169.9 million for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to fund innovative projects designed to support the expanding specialty crop food sector and explore new market opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural products. The total includes $72.9 million available as part of the annual farm bill funding for the program; and an additional $97 million available as emergency funding for applications under this solicitation. 

Grant project funding awarded as part of pandemic assistance can also go to organizations to assist farmworkers (e.g., for PPE and vaccination costs), projects to fund farmers, food businesses, and other relevant entities to respond to risks and supply chain disruption.

The SCBGP funds are allocated to U.S. states and territories based on a formula that considers both specialty crop acreage and production value. Interested applicants should apply directly through their state departments of agriculture. A listing of state contacts is available on the USDA website.

Applications must be submitted electronically through by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on June 11, 2021. Any grant application submitted after the due date will not be considered unless the applicant provides documentation of an extenuating circumstance that prevented their timely submission of the grant application. For more information about grant eligibility, visit the SCBGP website.

Dairy donation program

USDA will soon implement the Dairy Donation Program as established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The program will facilitate the timely donation of dairy products to nonprofit organizations that distribute food to persons in need and prevent and minimize food waste, AMS says.

Because the statute allows retroactive reimbursements of donations made before donation and distribution plans are approved, USDA is providing advance notice of the minimum provisions to be included in the program to encourage the dairy industry to process and donate surplus milk supplies as it moves through the spring surplus milk production season.

Although the DDP regulations have not yet been published, the following are the minimum key program requirements included in the statute: 1) a donation and distribution plan must be submitted and approved by USDA; 2) the reimbursement will be at least equivalent to the minimum classified value of milk used to make the donated product on the date of manufacturing; 3) records related to donating and receiving products must be maintained and available for review and/or audit; 4) eligibility is open to dairy farmer cooperatives and processors who “account to” a Federal milk marketing order and donate dairy products to any private or public nonprofit food distribution entity. 

Encouraging purchase of fruits and vegetables

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will invest $75 million as directed by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. Active Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program and Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grantees may request funding to allow them to address critical food and nutrition security needs of low-income communities, enhance the resilience of food and healthcare systems impacted by the pandemic, and maximize funds reaching participants in communities in need.

The GusNIP COVID Relief and Response grants program helps low-income communities improve the affordability and consumption of fruits and vegetables by vulnerable participants in communities in need. GusCRR grants will support expanded scope of work started under previous awards to address pandemic relief and respond to community needs in an impactful, timely, and authentic way. NIFA will reach out directly to GusCRR eligible applicants with additional details and a copy of the Request for Applications.

Eligibility to receive a GusCRR grant is limited to organizations with a current active GusNIP nutrition incentive grant, GusNIP produce prescription grant, or FINI grant that began prior to December 27, 2020. An eligible organization may submit only one GusCRR nutrition incentive grant application and one produce prescription application.

USDA encourages applications that benefit smaller farms and ranches, new and beginning farmers and ranchers, socially disadvantaged producers, veteran producers, and/or underserved communities. For grants intending to serve these audiences, applicants should engage and involve those beneficiaries when developing projects and applications.

USDA is also updating the currently open FY21 GusNIP RFA to more closely align with the law and extend that opportunity by two weeks to provide potential applicants additional time to consider the full range of available funding.

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