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Asparagus industry welcomes USDA $15-million compensation proposal

by Joan Murphy | July 22, 2010
WASHINGTON — The U.S. asparagus industry may feel some relief for losses from trade policies under a federal market loss payment program being proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but it will not heal all the pain, according to John Baker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board.

On July 16, USDA proposed a $15 million Asparagus Revenue Market Loss Assistance Payment Program to partially compensate asparagus producers for revenue losses that were caused by imports during the 2004 though 2007 crop years.

"Like every farm product, asparagus is an important part of our agricultural offering, so producers occasionally need assistance to adjust to sudden domestic price declines brought about by imports of their commodity," said Jonathan Coppess, Farm Service Agency administrator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “We are eager to have producers and consumers comment to the Farm Service Agency on our proposed Asparagus Revenue Market Loss rules to help us perfect implementation of this program.”

The program, which was authorized by the 2008 farm bill, requires the $15 million in payments be split between fresh-market asparagus and asparagus marketed to processors.

Mr. Baker said that the industry is very excited about the program and has been working on it for years. “The asparagus industry has been devastated by imports and trade policies,” he said. “This isn't going to make up for all the losses but will help ease some of the pain,” he added. While the industry has endured more than $100 million in losses, the proposed program will “help those producers still hanging on.”

USDA estimated that U.S. asparagus revenue losses during the 2004-07 crop years amounted to $141.6 million for the fresh market and $73.3 million for the processed sector. “Therefore, we expect to receive applications that exceed the available funding,” USDA said in its July 16 Federal Register notice. Comments on the proposed rule are due by Sept. 14.