WASHINGTON, D.C. – Hemp farmers—who have been hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis and hampered by slow reforms to federal drug regulations—are now eligible for federal aid under a second round of pandemic economic relief.
The original installment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP1), which contained $16 billion in funds, was distributed in the spring. Hemp farmers were not eligible to apply.
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the second round of CFAP relief on September 18. An additional $14 billion in funds has been earmarked for farmers, bringing the amount of pandemic relief funding for the U.S. agricultural sector to $30 billion so far.
A USDA press release announcing the aid package classified hemp as a “flat-rate crop,” and said, “Crops that either do not meet the 5-percent price decline trigger or do not have data available to calculate a price change will have payments calculated based on eligible 2020 acres multiplied by $15 per acre. These crops include alfalfa, extra long staple (ELS) cotton, oats, peanuts, rice, hemp, millet, mustard, safflower, sesame, triticale, rapeseed, and several others.”
The U.S. Hemp Growers Association (USHGA) said after hundreds of industry members contacted the USDA, as well as a phone call between the trade organization and USDA officials, hemp farmers were added to the proposal at the last minute.
“But that is not necessarily good news,” USHGA said, after CFAP2 was announced. “Unlike most commodities and various crops such as aloe leaves, hemp growers were not made eligible for their losses in the 2019 crop season. These losses had been verified by three different private data companies, since there is no large transparent trading market for hemp, and USDA does not yet collect much pricing data on hemp. Rather USDA said that hemp growers can apply for CFAP based on the 2020 crop acreage—a crop just under harvest right now. It appears they would receive a flat payment of $15 per acre.
“This is not a remedy for hemp growers who clearly lost markets due to Coronavirus in early 2020 when many manufacturing facilities and retail outlets across the United States were shutdown, thus drying up a market for hemp grown in 2019, to be processed,” the organization added.
“U.S. Hemp Growers Association is disappointed in this result. As a farmer-led organization we are concerned about the long-term implications of lackluster support of America’s newest crop, particularly as we focus on building additional opportunities in our rural communities with hemp-based products such as textiles, plastics, building materials, food, and extracts from hemp, products that are valued by millions of Americans,” USHGA said.
“We just couldn’t totally estimate what those [losses during spring and summer] would be, so we waited until later this summer to understand better what the damage is from COVID,” USDA Secretary Perdue said in an interview on September 18.
Perdue also expressed disappointment that more specialty crop farmers had not signed up for CFAP relief, but noted that some, especially hemp farmers, might not have much experience in submitting applications to the USDA.
Some critics of the package have said additional pandemic relief funding, added to billions already spent to assist farmers who fell victim to trade policies during his administration, is merely an attempt by President Trump to “buy votes” in heavily agricultural states.
Hemp crop producers can apply for assistance under CFAP2 through December 11, 2020. A CFAP Call Line number is available for applicants who require one-on-one assistance, 877-508-8364.