Falls Church, Va. —In an effort led by the U.S. Apple Association and Northwest Horticultural Council, tree fruit organizations are urging Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to consider the unique circumstances of growers during allocation of CARES Act funding. A letter sent to Sec. Perdue by a coalition of national, state and regional tree fruit organizations requests that any formula created to distribute CARES Act funding be both flexible and adaptable and recognize unique business practices that exist in the tree fruit sector.
“Growers of tree fruit are suffering direct, but as yet largely unquantified, COVID-19 losses on fruit harvested in 2019,” says the letter. “Standard business practices used in our industry to pay apple and pear growers for fruit delivered last fall and sold or stored during the COVID-19 pandemic timeframe will not provide loss data until late this year.”
According the organizations, tree fruit businesses are already experiencing sales losses, particularly through the school lunch program and food service sectors, and decreased productivity as they incorporate COVID-19 protective measures into H2-A housing and packing houses. Protective measures in packinghouses have – in addition to direct materials costs for sanitizer, etc. – decreased productivity and capacity by an estimated 15 to 20 percent, while labor costs have increased by a conservative estimate of $0.50 – $1.00 per box of fruit.
“Tree fruit growers are very large users of the H-2A guestworker program,” continues the letter. “It is easily conceivable that a late summer slowdown or shut down at the border would result in millions of dollars in tree fruit left unharvested.” As of now, the groups note, there is no way of calculating that impact.
Other organizations signing the letter include: California Apple Commission, Michigan Apple Committee; New York Apple Association, Pennsylvania Apple Program, Washington Apple Commission, Washington State Fruit Commission, and Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
USApple also played an active role in crafting a broad policy statement and letter to Sec. Perdue highlighting the needs of specialty crops and the importance of helping growers already impacted by COVID-19.
Related, USApple Association has created a COVID-19 resource site for growers, apple businesses and press. The site will continually be updated with information and resources.