YAKIMA, Wash. -- Cherry growers in the Northwest and elsewhere can expect to share $111.5 million in federal aid to help them recover losses due to new tariffs in China, but when and how they’d get the money remains to be seen, officials said Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said Monday that mechanisms are in place to provide billions of dollars in aid to American farmers growing everything from apples to walnuts.
The mechanisms mainly involve payments by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the purchase of commodities affected by tariffs, including beef, pork, grain and various fruits. The food purchases will be available to domestic food assistance and child nutrition programs.
Program details to help growers of sweet cherries have yet to be determined, according to Perdue’s announcement.
The problem lies in the nature of sweet cherries: their harvest season is short, from June to early August, and they are quickly perishable, unlike other commodities that have a long shelf lives, according to Mark Powers, president of the Yakima-based Northwest Horticultural Council.
Therefore, there are no fresh cherries from the 2018 harvest the USDA can buy for distribution.
“That won’t work for cherries,” he said. “The USDA couldn’t do a direct payment as they would for row crops.”
He said the council has been working with the USDA to speed up its deliberations on how to compensate cherry growers, but does not expect a program to be in place for several weeks.
Will Boyington, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican whose congressional district includes Central Washington, said he is confident cherry growers will be compensated.
“One thing that’s clear is cherry growers will receive the amount” stated in Perdue’s announcement, Boyington said. That $111.5 million will come from a $12 billion pot the USDA will authorize for agriculture producers for market disruptions due to the current tariff war between the U.S. and many countries around the world.
Powers said Washington cherry growers have said they stand to lose an estimated $86 million this season due to a 50 percent tariff China imposed on U.S. cherries in retaliation for tariffs President Donald Trump’s administration levied on Chinese goods. The state has about 2,500 growers who produce more sweet cherries than any other region in the nation.
The Northwest Horticulture Council focused on lost sales in China because it was the largest importer of Northwest-grown cherries last year.
According to Powers, China bought 12 percent of the Washington cherry harvest last year but only 7 percent this year. Sales essentially stopped on July 6 when the 50 percent tariff took effect.
Overall, Washington state risks losing $650 million in agricultural exports as a result of retaliatory tariffs, according to the Washington Department of Agriculture. An estimated $480 million of that is from China alone.