Persistence has paid off for growers of Kern County’s No. 3-grossing crop after the federal government reversed itself and ruled pistachio growers do qualify for financial compensation during the pandemic.
Pistachios were left off the original list of qualified crops released in May. That's because the U.S. Department of Agriculture's analysis concluded initially that the nut didn't suffer the minimum, 5-percent price drop between Jan. 15 and April 15.
The USDA says specialty crops may also qualify if they shipped but later spoiled because of a "loss of marketing channel" or if prepared shipments never left the farm — or there were mature crops that remained unharvested because of the pandemic.
Other local crops were left off the USDA's list as well, including table grapes, Kern's top-grossing crop in 2018. But almonds, carrots, lemons and oranges made the list after the USDA found they suffered at least the minimum qualifying price decline.
The trade group American Pistachio Growers said in May it might appeal if its members felt the crop should be on the list of qualified growers.
An appeal apparently was filed — and succeeded.
On Tuesday, a USDA website dealing with the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, as the crisis-recovery subsidy is known, listed pistachios as a qualified crop.
It turns out many crops have been added to the original list. A USDA website says more than 40 specialty crops were put on the list July 9 and almost 60 more were added Tuesday. Table grapes weren't on Tuesday's combined list.
CFAP was intended to help farmers who lost money as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Growers stand to receive direct payments of up to $250,000 each, while dairies, ranchers and some processing companies can get up to $750,000.
“As (growers), we know and feel the effects directly when prices decline. This program provides the support needed by farmers during this difficult time we are all currently experiencing,” said Brian Watte, chairman of American Pistachio Growers, said in a news release Tuesday.
APG attributed the USDA's reversal to the work of its Washington, D.C. lobbying firm as well as conference calls the trade group's representatives placed with officials within the federal agency.
“We’re pleased that USDA took the effort to review all sales data on pistachios, particularly exports (that) have seen declines as a result of the coronavirus pandemic experienced on a global basis,” APG President Richard Matoian said in Tuesday's release.
The trade group urged pistachio growers to fill out forms posted online at www.farmers.gov/CFAP and to call the USDA at 877-508-8364.