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LOCAL NEWS: Federal CARES Act aid for small farms uncertain

LOCAL NEWS: Federal CARES Act aid for small farms uncertain

The recently passed CARES act was intended to aid individuals and small businesses to weather the COVID 19 storm. Now some small farms are discovering that help for them was not included. Kathleen Morgain has one farm’s response.

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The two point two billion dollar CARES act was broadly targeted to small businesses needing help to keep the lights on and retain employees.  But under current SBA directives – businesses classed as agricultural enterprises are specifically excluded from applying.   

Bruce and Desiree Craven own and operate Backwater Farm on Puget Island in the Columbia River. They sell pasture raised chickens and beef and supply fresh eggs to the Astoria Coop among other clients. Bruce Craven noted guidelines are not clear for which small operators qualify for assistance.

Bruce Craven: “Small aquaculture can get SBA help but small agriculture can’t. I don’t quite see what the distinction is because you’d think that agriculture would come before aquaculture since that weakens salmon stocks or whatever, but apparently not, so that’s why I’m just skeptical of it all.” (:20)

Area Extension agents are working to assist those who do seek to apply.   In an email to local officials, Rianne Perry from the Washington State Department of Agriculture said the USDA is still finalizing plans for their nine point five billion dollars allocated under the CARES Act and will get the information out as soon as possible.

In a conference call with state agriculture officials on Wednesday, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said USDA is working to ensure that farmers and ranchers are covered under the Paycheck Protection Program. He said this was always the intent, but SBA’s statutory authority limitations are creating difficulties.

For now, Backwater Farm is moving forward under its own steam.  

Bruce Craven: “Well I keep the farm store going I mean y’know with whatever I’ve got.  I’m still doing eggs and selling eggs and y’know there’s a good point, with eggs going to the Coop and stuff I mean they’re anxious to get ‘em and my markets are still there for the moment, so my strategy has been to stock up. So I just bought two tons of chicken feed instead of one ton of chicken feed, and five hundred egg cartons instead of two hundred egg cartons – just doin’ stuff like that to try to give myself some  resilience in the uncertainties ahead. (:32)

In an email to extension agents, Nicole Lizama of the SBA Western Field Office said rules are evolving day to day and that farms should put in applications, particularly if they operate farm stores.  In current guidelines, loans are capped at $10 million but can include up to eight weeks of the business’ average monthly payroll costs from the last year plus an additional 25% for nonpayroll costs. Seasonal and new businesses come under different calculations. Application for Paycheck Protection Program assistance can be made through June 30th. 

In SW Washington, I’m Kathleen Morgain.