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Many San Diego County Farmers Excluded From Federal COVID-19 Relief Funds

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The most valuable crops in San Diego County aren’t eligible for federal COVID-19 relief payments. Specialty growers are making the case they should be.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The San Diego farm Bureau States that San Diego County is home to more small farms than any other County in the United States. The top crops include ornamental trees, flowers, and succulents, but many of these small farms are fighting for survival faced with rising water costs, escalating land prices. And now COVID-19 unlike big agriculture, which was deemed essential and has qualified for federal relief funding. These small high value crops were not, I knew source reporter come Eve on canal has written about their bid to be included in federal relief funds for COVID related losses. Welcome to the show Comey. Thank you. So now you spoke to a small farmer about how the COVID-19 quarantine had affected her operations. What did she tell you?

Speaker 2: 00:44 Yeah, so I spoke to Cindy Lester who has an exotic fruits farm in Fallbrook. And she said that when the lockdown hit, she could not get her fruit, which is mostly exotic fruit at the time. It was chairman Maya's and guavas to the market and the fruit that was in the market couldn't get sold. So basically that meant that a lot of her fruit that was, you know, right at the moment rotted in the orchard or in the market shelves. Um, and it was just a complete loss for her that is hard for her to come back from because she counted on that money to then pay for fertilizer and water for her next crop.

Speaker 1: 01:23 Right. Did she find ways to adapt to the quarantine? Yeah, she said she donated some of the fruits

Speaker 2: 01:29 To food banks. Um, and, but these are exotic foods. So the demand was, you know, it's particular. And now that the lockdown has started to lift, she is selling fruit again. But the crop that was kind of ripening at the time is, is gone.

Speaker 1: 01:47 No, just to sort of get a bit, the picture here San Diego County has, has long been a center for small farmers and the farm Bureau says we've more part time farmers than anywhere else in the United States. Remind us why our agricultural sector is kind of unique, not like big farms elsewhere in the country.

Speaker 2: 02:04 Yeah. So the San Diego County farm Bureau says that it's because of the expensive cost of land and of water. Farmers are forced to be very creative and innovative. And so they kind of seek high value products, products that will fetch a lucrative price on the market. And so that includes kind of specialty produce, um, flowers that are grown and in greenhouses, uh, nursery plants, uh, decorative plants, um, because of the high cost of, of land and water. And then also the San Diego County farm Bureau says there's a labor shortage and a lot of regulation that makes it hard to farm in, in the County.

Speaker 1: 02:48 So now on top of all this, this COVID-19 we know about the flowers, we're very attached to our flower growers. How has it affected them? Yeah, so, you know, I pulled up some of the documents that were sent

Speaker 2: 03:00 To the federal government to kind of convince them that flowers should be included in the federal relief funds. And the kind of the industry association for the flowers in the U S says that the timing could not possibly have been worse as 60 to 80% of the industry sales, a cure, and a 10 week window falling from March to may. And those sales were based basically went to almost zero, particularly in the, at the start of the lockdown. And so sector losses nationwide are estimated at 400 million or more. And in the County specifically, there are certain long time farms, flower farms, like the flower fields at Carlsbad, they have told the federal government that their business is at stake because the spring was so important for them. And they suffered so many losses.

Speaker 1: 03:53 So have they been making arguments to the us department of agriculture to lobby for some of the assistance money?

Speaker 2: 04:00 Yeah. So a flower growers, as well as other kind of specialty produce growers that have been left out of the federal relief program so far have been sending in data to the federal government to kind of prove that they had losses and that they should qualify for the federal relief money. And the government is kind of hearing them out, has asked for more data and hasn't made a decision yet, but the program will last all summer. So I'll, I'll be keeping an eye on, on what the federal government says

Speaker 1: 04:31 We've been speaking with. I knew source reporter come even canal. Thanks for talking with us Comey. Thank you.

Speaker 3: 04:43 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.