Deadline nears for farmers to claim virus funds

GHENT—When Congressman Antonio Delgado (D-19th) met with constituents at a Town Hall in Germantown August 17, he touted a second round of CARES funding that could help Columbia County farmers hit by the pandemic: the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP2).

While the original CFAP 2 application period ran for four months—September to December 2020—the updated CFAP2 reopened the application period in 2021 and extended it to seven months. The deadline is October 12. The extended program also increased significantly the numbers of eligible farm operations by including a diverse range of commodities.

According to Matt Forrest, county executive director for Columbia / Greene County Farm Services Agency (FSA), 80 farms in Columbia County were eligible under CFAP1; now 130 farms are eligible under CFAP2. The extended program also increased the types of eligible farm operations to include dairy goats, specialty livestock (alpaca/llamas, bison/buffalo/beefalo, deer/elk/emu and rabbits/ducks/guinea pigs), floriculture and nursery crops, and more than 230 fruit, vegetable and nut crops.

Despite the expansion, equine operations and hay farmers, except those cultivating alfalfa, were completely shut out. Mr. Forrest attributed the exclusion to the “food or fiber” rule that limits federal farm aid to operations “producing essential goods and foodstuff.” He noted that equines are classified as “pleasure, entertainment and sport.”

He credited several tweaks in CFAP2 that make it more enticing for farm operations to apply. He said that CFAP1 payments were based on 2020 inventories for corn and soybean operations, while vegetables growers’ payments were based on 2020 sales in January to March. But Mr. Forrest noted that 2020 sales were especially poor due to pandemic related closings of restaurants, schools and similar types of institutions. But CFAP2 payments are based on a percentage of 2019 sales and 2020 acreage.

‘Payment varies wildly from a few hundred to several hundred thousands of dollars.’

Exec. Dir. Matt Forrest

County Farm Services Agency

Other tweaks intended to entice more applications are a minimum 5% decrease in gross sales and, for operations that cannot document lower sales, a flat rate payment of $15/acre is made. Also, payments for inventoried, non-breeding livestock were increased from a CFAP1 rate of $17/head to $55/head under CFAP2. CFAP1 applicants automatically received the $38/head increase without re-applying.

Mr. Forrest New York state will receive a total $10.6 million, with two percent of those funds awarded to Columbia County. He described that as “fair, since Columbia County’s share of New York’s agricultural sales is 2%.” He acknowledged that the “payment varies wildly from a few hundred to several hundred thousands of dollars” but generally are 8.5 to 10% of gross sales.

He described the CFAP2 application as “simple and straight forward” although he said that the process requires a “lot of handholding” to help farmers navigate the various rules due to “near constant updating” by the USDA. But Mr. Forrest underscored that there is a “quick turnaround” once the application process is complete. He said that results in payment checks being issued within two to three days after submission. He added, “No applicants were rejected.”

Mr. Forrest said that eligible farm operations must be registered with their local FSA office and must agree to “conservation and wetlands compliance on highly erodible land.” A five -person committee of elected farmers, chosen by their peers, assists with outreach and administration of FSA programs including CFAP. Elections are held annually.

Columbia County is divided into three Local Administrative Areas (LAA):

* Northern Columbia County includes Stockport, Stuyvesant, Kinderhook, Chatham, New Lebanon and Canaan

* Central Columbia County consists of Ghent, Austerlitz, Hillsdale, Claverack, Greenport and Taghkanic

* Southern Columbia County communities are Copake, Ancram, Gallatin, Clermont, Germantown and Livingston.

The application deadline for CFAP2 is October 12, 2021. Mr. Forrest encourages farmers who have yet to apply to contact the FSA office in Ghent or their local LAA committee to begin the process.

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