Cherry growers, dairies welcome USDA aid

By:  Mai Hoang
Source: Yakima Herald

While not all the details are out, cherry growers and dairies are expected to benefit from $16 billion in federal aid for agricultural producers who continue to be affected by tariffs and trade disputes, including one the U.S. has with China.

The cherry industry received additional good news Thursday: The U.S. Senate passed legislation that would allow more growers to qualify for the Market Facilitation Program, or MFP, which provides direct financial assistance to those impacted by retaliatory tariffs.

The market program is one of three ways the U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended support to growers. USDA also offers an aid program in which the U.S. government buys agricultural commodities and a grant program that provides funds for trade promotion.

Sen. Maria Cantwell and Congressman Dan Newhouse worked together to get the provision in the disaster supplemental budget bill, which also includes financial assistance for those affected by wildfires, hurricanes and floods.

“Getting this aid is critical to supporting the more than 2,500 cherry growers in the Pacific Northwest and the thousands of jobs they support,” Cantwell said in a news release Thursday. “While the priority for our growers remains an end to the trade disputes, all cherry growers must have access to this assistance.”

Previously, many cherry growers were not eligible for MFP because their annual adjusted gross income was more than $900,000, said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents the Northwest tree fruit industry in public policy issues.

However, larger growers were just as impacted by tariffs to China, Powers said. In 2017, the Asian country was the largest export market for Northwest sweet cherries. The region shipped more than 3 million 20-pound boxes that year.

Last year, shipments dropped to 1.7 million.

“Central Washington producers want to grow and sell their high-quality cherries in strong domestic and international markets,” Newhouse said in a news release Thursday. “This fix is essential to ensure growers can continue to operate in this upcoming growing season while (President Donald Trump’s) administration continues their work to level the playing field with China.”

The legislation now needs to pass the U.S. House of Representatives.

Powers said it remains to be seen how much the annual adjusted gross income limit will be raised, but he believes it will be enough for all growers to qualify.

Cherry growers are “going into another season where their main market, China, is going to be under significant pressure,” Powers said. “They need all the assistance they can get to tide them over until the trade war is resolved.”

New aid

News of additional USDA aid was also welcomed by the dairy industry, which had already been suffering from low prices, said Scott Dilley, communications director for the Washington State Dairy Federation, which represents the industry in policy issues.

China imposed a 25 percent retaliatory tariff on U.S. dairy products last year. Dairy products also are on a new list of new tariffs that will go into effect June 1 if an agreement isn’t reached between the two countries. With additional tariffs, the total duty for different dairy products will be at least 30 percent or more.

The tariffs, along with other economically challenging conditions, have led to 10 dairies statewide closing this year, he said.

“We’re looking forward to seeing what the details are,” Dilley said.

Also anticipating more details is Stan Ryan, president and CEO of Darigold, the Seattle-based marketing subsidiary of the Northwest Dairy Association, a dairy farmer cooperative.

“With the past four years of depressed milk prices and the recent pain felt due to trade tensions, any help will be good from a farmer’s perspective,” Ryan said in a written statement emailed to the Yakima Herald-Republic. “Hopefully, dairy producers will be treated well in the decisions around allocations from the

$16 billion package.”

Darigold’s plant in Sunnyside produces a variety of products, including milk and whey proteins, that are shipped around the world.

Ryan said Darigold’s annual sales to China dropped by $50 million due to tariffs, and the company was forced to find new markets to replace those sales.

Ryan is also concerned about lost opportunities in the future if the trade war continues. “China is a uniquely large market,” he said. “The growth in China alone over the next 10 years could add $5 billion in trade surplus to the U.S. dairy industry.”