As of August 12, 2020, maple syrup producers who have been impacted by the pandemic will now be eligible to apply for financial assistance from the USDA under the CFAP program (Coronavirus Food Assistance Program). Here is a little background information on how we arrived at where we are at today. COVID-19 has changed the American and global consumers’ buying habits. The pandemic has also impacted the work force required to process our food, and workers need to get food products on the table.
CFAP stands for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. It was one of the first programs to be initiated by the United States Government to help the American farmer. Once the pandemic arrived, lawmakers were almost instantly aware that domestic agriculture was on a slippery slope. They recognized that farmers, who had already been under a severe financial strain for the last several years, were going to get hit doubly hard with the arrival of COVID-19. The first commodities to be included were livestock, dairy and grain. Livestock and dairy were in immediate need of assistance due to a radical shift in the food chain, and supplies of dairy products and meat were backing up in the system. Grain farmers have been subjected to declining markets since 2015. The pandemic along with other world events, such as African Swine Fever and trade tariffs have brought commodity prices to near record lows. Similar patterns occurred with many fruit and vegetable crops due to shifting market demand, inability to harvest, and untimely delivery constraints. Unfortunately, maple was excluded from the long list of specialty crops up until just a few days ago.
Maple has never been as susceptible as other crops to severe financial setbacks and wild cyclical price swings. Maple producers do an excellent job of marketing and for the most part there has not been a severe downtrend in maple syrup prices. The biggest factor impacting maple producers was that the timing of the pandemic hit U.S. soil at the exact same time that a new year’s crop was coming off the evaporators. Maple is somewhat unique in that it has a long shelf life and is produced in a relatively small region. No one knew in late March what impact the coronavirus would have on maple prices. It took 4 months of declining bulk and retail prices for the USDA to realize that maple was suffering a setback due to COVID-19. Certainly, no one was initially aware that COVID-19 would close festivals, fairs, and farmer’s markets across the country, but that was a huge blow to many sugar makers as well. Shuttered small businesses may have dealt the largest blow to the maple industry due to the sheer volume and distribution of specialty stores that handle local maple products. The second round of eligible CFAP payees again neglected maple producers, and legislators from major maple-producing states started to grow more vocal over the oversight.
Finally just last week, maple sap was included in the CFAP commodity list. The term maple sap may seem a little odd but that is what USDA has always referred to maple syrup with this product label. Maple is not a new commodity to USDA, and it has always been in their list of specialty crops. Other crops in that category include grapes, hay, and more. Specialty crops can initiate a Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) payment when there is a natural disaster and a crop is severely impacted.
Now that maple has finally been added to the list of eligible crops for CFAP, producers must act fast to receive a payment. FSA (Farm Service Agency) offices will start taking applications on Aug 17, 2020. The deadline was originally August 28 but it has been extended until September 11, 2020. CFAP is open to all maple producers in all producing states, and any maple producer is eligible even if you have not requested the services of FSA before. If you have never worked with FSA, it is suggested that you make an appointment with your local FSA office to help fill out the application. There are several additional forms you will need to sign. Applications are also available online. Unless maple producers also raise other program crops, they will probably want to arrange a visit with their local FSA office for assistance.
Finally, USDA will also offer a webinar with recent CFAP updates for specialty crop producers on August 19 at 3 PM.
Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension