Nov 18, 2009
Asparagus Payment Delayed

Maybe next year, asparagus growers.

The $15 million the U.S. asparagus industry has been waiting for is still “limping its way” through the federal system, and growers might not get money in their hands until some time next year, according to John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board.

The money is from the Market Loss Assistance Program, part of the 2008 Farm Bill. The program was inserted into the bill to compensate U.S. asparagus growers for the losses they incurred from the Andean Trade Preference Act, a U.S. drug policy that eliminated tariffs on a variety of products – including Peruvian asparagus – in 1991. U.S. growers tried for years to modify the act, which flooded the U.S. market with cheap Peruvian asparagus, but when they realized it wasn’t going to change, they decided to ask for money.

“Our troubles began as an unforeseen impact of the U.S. war on drugs, and we wanted to provide U.S. growers at least partial compensation for their losses,” Bakker said in a March interview.

Program details need to be approved by a number of agencies before they’re published in the Federal Register, which could happen in December. After a public comment period, growers might be able to sign up for checks by next spring – but that’s Bakker’s best guess. The process has taken longer than he anticipated.

“USDA had a huge caseload of work based on changes made to the Farm Bill,” he said. “We were a lower priority than we would have liked.”

When the $15 million is available, half of it will go to the fresh side of the asparagus industry and half to processing. In March, Bakker estimated that 38 percent of the money would go to growers in California, 38 percent to Washington state, 20 percent to Michigan and the remainder to other parts of the country.

In order to qualify, you had to be an asparagus producer from 2003 through 2007. Bakker anticipated signup would be through local Farm Service Agency offices.

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