AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released the final rule outlining eligibility requirements for financial assistance under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). When released, no funding was allotted for aquaculture producers, including catfish producers, who suffered losses as a result of COVID-19.
According to the rule, funding for “additional eligible commodities, such as aquaculture and nursery crops (including cut flowers) will be announced in a subsequently announced Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) issued by FSA on behalf of the Secretary.”
Because of these developments, an informational Zoom meeting is scheduled for May 29 at 9 a.m. for Alabama catfish and other aquaculture producers. At the meeting, Alabama Extension professionals will discuss the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and its relationship to aquaculture. Participants are asked to register prior to the meeting.
Aquaculture Sector Seeks Eligibility
Terry Hanson, an Alabama Extension aquaculture specialist, said aquaculture producers were left off the initial CFAP commodity list. The reason for this exclusion is because there was insufficient evidence to verify five percent losses because of COVID-19. This loss percentage, which is required to qualify, is determined from industry data between January and April.
“Alabama Extension professionals are working closely with Mississippi State Extension aquaculture specialists and the Catfish Farmers of America to provide documentation in three areas that losses could occur: price, sales and inventory,” Hanson said.
Hanson is working with two other Alabama Extension specialists, Luke Roy and Anita Kelly, to provide information to USDA. This information will help make a case for aquaculture producers across the U.S., but especially in Alabama.
Additional Funding Opportunities Sought
While aquaculture and nursery plants were submitted to USDA as commodities for consideration under CFAP, sufficient evidence was not found to allow for immediate inclusion.
“There is a lot of confusion surrounding the financial aid made available through CFAP,” Hanson said. “Right now, the important thing for Alabama catfish producers to know is that there is no immediate assistance available for catfish producers. We anticipate additional monies will be allocated to catfish producers in the near future, but the timeline is not concrete.”
If the NOFA passes through the federal register, there will be a 30-day comment period for professionals and producers to respond. At that point, Hanson said he and his Auburn University Extension colleagues and Mississippi State counterparts will present information pertaining to the U.S. catfish industry. They will also be looking to hear from producers pertaining to their losses because of COVID-19.
Because the initial CFAP ruling excluded aquaculture, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) application process is not open to catfish producers May 26. Application dates for these producers will be announced later when and if the NOFA accepts catfish.
However, Hanson said producers with other commodities on the qualifying list should move forward with the application process. To see the list of qualifying commodities, visit the FSA website.
He also encourages catfish producers to begin collecting the necessary information and documentation for an eventual FSA application. Producers who have not worked with FSA should contact the local USDA Service Center by phone to schedule an appointment. Find information pertaining to necessary documentation and contact information by visiting www.farmers.gov/coronavirus.
As more information becomes available, Hanson and his colleagues will share via email, social media and through Extension communication channels.
As a reminder, Hanson will address this topic in an informational Zoom meeting May 29 at 9 a.m. Participants are asked to register prior to the meeting. Upon registering, participants will receive a confirmation email with information on joining the meeting.