U.S.: Disaster aid change would benefit cherry growers

March 12 , 2019

A provision moving through Congress as part of disaster aid legislation would let farmers earning more than $900,000 on average for the past three years qualify for President Donald Trump’s $12 billion program compensating producers for trade-related losses, according to the Rome New-Tribune.

Ostensibly, the language would benefit any well-to-do farmers and ranchers. But the $2 million provision was designed specifically with one constituency in mind, according to congressional aides: growers of sweet cherries, predominantly in Washington state.

The fact that the provision specifically mentions Trump’s Market Facilitation Program to help farmers caught up in his trade dispute with China, rather than some natural disaster, on its face strains the definition of “emergency” that the supplemental aid package will carry, enabling it to skirt budget rules.

For Washington cherry growers China’s retaliatory tariffs are an economic disaster. And because some earn too much to qualify, they currently get no help from Trump’s compensation fund.

An aide to Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Washington Republican who pushed for the income waiver, pointed out that the $900,000 income limit for farm subsidy programs applies before operating expenses and before taxes are figured in.

It also doesn’t take into account higher costs involved in cherry production than for other crops, and the substantial upfront investment and long lead time before cherries can be sold.

Since Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports last April, followed by tariffs specifically on Chinese goods, China has retaliated by increasing its tariffs on U.S. fresh cherry exports from 10 percent to 50 percent. That’s effectively added more than a third to the price of U.S. cherries sold in China.

Newhouse’s staff said the trade war led to about $96 million in losses to sweet cherry producers for the 2018 growing season. It has decimated a top export market, which a major Washington state grower told the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee last year accounts for as much as one-third of the company’s sales.

Cass Gebbers, president and CEO of Gebbers Farms, told the subcommittee last July that if tariffs persisted into 2019, he stands to lose out to competitors in Europe and Turkey. He said his “razor-thin margin” business, based in Newhouse’s district, would probably have to cut production, cancel equipment purchases and lay off workers.

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