Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) today led a bipartisan letter to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue, asking him to use his authority to utilize all purchasing authorities to buoy the struggling walnut industry. The walnut industry – based exclusively in California – has seen prices plummet in the last two years to near or below the costs of production. Even prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, walnut farmers were harmed by retaliatory tariffs levied by top export partners including China, India, and Turkey. Rep. Harder is joined on the letter by fellow California Reps. Devin Nunes, Jim Costa, TJ Cox, Salud Carbajal, John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney, Jimmy Panetta, and Doug LaMalfa.
“Walnut growers are being pinched on all sides – they’re up against tariffs from other countries, falling demand, and general chaos in food markets,” said Rep. Harder. “We have USDA programs designed for use in emergencies just like this – the Secretary should use them right away to help our walnut farmers.”
“We are incredibly grateful to Congressman Harder and colleagues for recognizing the need to support California’s walnut growers,” said Michelle McNeil Connelly, Executive Director of The California Walnut Board. “We continue to face challenging times and greatly need Section 32 to provide relief. As an essential industry we have continued to do our part and believe the relief funds provided to USDA will provide an excellent source on nutrition for millions of hungry Americans while, in tandem, ensuring the viability of our producers.”
The letter asks Secretary Perdue to use two legal authorities to increase walnut purchases. The first, Section 32 of the Agricultural Adjustments Act allows USDA to support the ag industry by purchasing their products at market rates and then distributing the products to people in need. The letter also asks the Secretary to use his authority under the Food Purchase and Distribution Program, which was created last year to help farmers harmed by trade wars with other countries.
Rep. Harder is a leader in efforts to protect walnut growers. Last year, he led a bipartisan letter with nearly two dozen of his colleagues asking USDA to include tree nuts and other specialty crops in the Market Facilitation Program, another program designed to help farmers harmed by retaliatory tariffs. After the members of Congress made their request, USDA added walnuts and other tree nuts to the program.
The text of the letter is below and an original copy is available here.
Dear Secretary Perdue:
Thank you for your leadership overseeing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). We write today in support of USDA purchases of California walnuts and encourage utilizing all purchasing authorities, including Section 32 and the Food Purchase and Distribution Program, to provide much-needed support to California’s walnut industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has come on top of an already difficult time for our 4,500 California walnut producers who have, and continue, to suffer from the effects of retaliatory tariffs in India, Turkey and China. From tariff actions alone, what was a $1.5 billion industry just two years ago, has declined by more than 41 percent to $878.8 million. Producer prices have been near or below the costs of production for the last two years (0.65/cents per pound) and the outlook is bleak. The continued impacts of COVID-19 have resulted in excess inventories, with a record carry-out of nearly 90,000 tons from the current crop compounded by an anticipated record crop in excess of 700,000 tons which will begin harvest in September. The California Walnut Board estimates initial farm gate losses from COVID-19 at nearly $300 million, and as with this pandemic, are evolving and eroding quickly.
Global walnut demand has slowed resulting from port disruptions, distribution challenges, the sharp decline of the food manufacturing and food service sectors, and consumer economic uncertainty. With the trajectory of COVID-19 lasting well into 2021, walnut producers are in need of assistance from any and all programs available to protect the 85,000 full-time jobs attributable to the walnuts industry. Our California’s walnut farmers represent ninety-nine percent of U.S. production of walnuts, were the 5th leading export from the state prior to these challenges. Despite falling to the 13th leading export from the state, the California walnut industry contributes over $6 billion to the state’s economy.
Demand for nutrition programs has grown immensely, with Feeding America reporting that 98 percent of food banks reported an increase in need for food assistance. In California alone, food bank demand has grown by 73 percent, while farmers and ranchers have seen market declines of over 50 percent. Walnuts provide a shelf stable source of protein and essential omega-3 fatty acids, providing nutrition to feed America’s hungry through meal inclusion and snacks, while also aiding our farmers.
We appreciate your previous support for the industry, through purchases and the Market Facilitation Program, and hope your support will continue through this pandemic. We thank you for your continued support during this unpredictable time and urge you to give all due consideration to California’s walnut industry’s purchase request.