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Jamie Johansson
California Farm Bureau Federation president Jamie Johansson speaks at a media event to highlight the effects of foreign tariffs on the state's farm goods in April. He says a long-term resolution to the U.S.' trade disputes is still urgent.

Group: USDA's tariff relief falls short for citrus

Administration's $12 billion package doesn't meet the needs of California growers, who export 25 percent of their tonnage to offshore markets, citrus group says.

The USDA's plans to provide up to $12 billion in relief for agricultural producers facing market disruption because of newly imposed foreign tariffs won't meet the needs of California citrus growers who export about 25 percent of their product, a commodity group says.

The two programs intended to support specialty crop producers involve purchasing excess inventory and trade promotion activities to help redirect volume that's normally exported to China and other destinations, California Citrus Mutual explains.

The commodity purchase program historically pays reduced prices for products not viable for domestic or export markets, the group adds.

"The potential revenue that could be generated via this program for growers is far less than export revenues, thus to assume it is a viable alternative would be incorrect," CCM president Joel Nelsen said in a statement. "A quick survey of the industry indicates that growers and shippers do not generally utilize this distribution channel."

The citrus industry is familiar with the Market Access Program (MAP), but MAP is typically limited to specific marketing campaigns aimed at spurring demand in a new market in which the product isn't well known, CCM explains in a news release. That means MAP funds are used in the offshore markets, not as payment to growers or shippers.

"While MAP does provide value to an industry over time, the benefits to growers are not instantaneous and would not necessarily provide immediate relief," Nelsen says. "For MAP to be beneficial in the context of trade mitigation, it would have to be modified so that fruit currently or soon to be in the market can be redirected, potentially to numerous destinations, immediately. We are talking about considerable tonnage and to assume one market, unless it is the domestic market, could absorb that tonnage is just wrong."

USDA is listening

CCM officials say they've asked how the fruit and sector losses could be rectified, and USDA officials have said they're eager to hear how specific modifications could benefit industries.

A USDA spokesperson told Western Farm Press in an email that the agency "is reaching out to grower groups to try to tailor our purchase program to the products most affected by trade retaliation."

Citrus Mutual's board reviewed the proposal from President Donald Trump's administration last week and called it "a noble effort to satisfy the president's statement that U.S. farmers will not be negatively impacted by his trade policies."

Likewise, California Farm Bureau Federation president Jamie Johannessen said in a statement that members "appreciate how USDA has worked to assemble this package quickly at a time of market uncertainty for farmers and ranchers." He says he hopes the USDA's bonus purchases of fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats and other products for food banks and other food aid programs will provide some immediate relief for farmers and ranchers.

However, while the package may provide some short-term relief, finding a long-term resolution to the U.S.  trade disputes remains urgent, he says.

"Ultimately, farmers and ranchers want what we have always wanted: to trade on a fair basis with customers around the world who want to buy our products," Johannessen says. "We will continue to urge the administration and our congressional delegation to resolve the trade disputes as quickly as possible."

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