Business & Real Estate

More California fruit and nut growers will get help with Trump tariffs in new farm aid deal

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Thursday that grapes, tree nuts and cranberries will be added to the list of crops that are eligible for direct payments from the federal government to compensate for losses in the trade war with China.

The new farm aid package, which will distribute $16 billion to farmers, up from the $12 billion given in aid last year, will distribute the assistance in three payments, with the first in July or August, according to the USDA. The second payment should be made in late fall and the third in early 2020.

“We hope to have a trade agreement before those second and third payments are made,” said USDA Undersecretary Bill Northey in a call to reporters on Thursday.

Farm aid is meant to help the growers who have been affected by retaliatory tariffs implemented by China against U.S. agricultural products. Adding tree nuts and grapes helps many California specialty crop farmers who were left out by a previous package.

The new assistance will also distribute the payments differently. Rather than a payment based on types of crops — like how in the last package USDA paid 6 cents per pound of cotton and $1.65 per bushel of soybeans — the payment this year will be based on county and acreage produced. So farmers within the same county who produce the same amount of acres of crop will get the same payment, regardless of the type of crop they grow.

It still will not compensate farmers who did not plant a crop. USDA officials said more specifics on how officials calculated payments would be released later.

California accounts for 99 percent of U.S. production of walnuts and grapes, and the walnut industry created the equivalent of 85,000 full-time jobs in 2018, according to California Walnuts, a walnut grower advocacy group. California farmers harvested 109 million boxes of table grapes in 2017, valued at $1.8 billion, according to the California Table Grape Commission.

Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, led a bipartisan congressional letter to the USDA last week asking that those products be added to the new farm aid package. He said the tariff relief package is “huge victory” for the Central Valley, though ending Trump’s trade war was the priority.

“After our local walnut growers were left out last year, I knew we had to make sure they were included this time around — and thanks to the help of folks on both sides of the aisle, we were able to get that done,” Harder said.

But some Democrats, such as Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, were less than thrilled.

“Unfortunately, this complex scheme leaves (farmers) with more questions than answers,” Stabenow said. “I have a number of concerns about whether this plan is fair and equitable to all farmers. Government checks are no replacement for lost markets, and this temporary support will only go so far.”

Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.