FARGO — Farmers and ranchers won’t need to stampede U.S. Department of Agriculture offices on the day after Memorial Day weekend to be eligible for new COVID-19 aid, officials say.

Brad Thykeson, Farm Service Agency state director in Fargo, said farmers and ranchers won’t have to interrupt spring work to race others to apply for funds.

State and county FSA officials will have simultaneous video training on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program on Thursday, May 21. Signup at the Farm Service Agency starts May 26 for “up to $16 billion” in aid and applications will be open through Aug. 28, Thykeson said.

President Donald Trump has indicated payment is expected to be made within a week of an application being received and approved. Thykeson said there is no race for the available funds. “Our county office staff, we don’t want them working to midnight, or to have farmers camped out the door because they’ll be running out of funds on a first-come, first-serve basis. We don’t need that.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced a timetable on the aid for farmers and food workers hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Farmers and ranchers can apply for the program at local Farm Service Agency offices. Application forms can be found at farmers.gov/cfap.

“We’re really building the plane as we fly,” Thykeson said, on Tuesday, May 19. He said he hasn’t seen enough information to know how the program might work for individual farmers. He said he “can’t wait until Thursday” to be able to do that.

The program has been changed to provide a $250,000 limit per producer, covering all commodities, rather than an earlier description that it would be $125,000 per commodity. “I think they were hearing a lot of push-back,” on that limit, Thykeson said. He noted that this limit is “specific to this program” and not related to farm program payment limits for other support programs.

Thykeson said producers will “self-certify” they are eligible if they have experienced a 5% or greater “price decline due to COVID-19” and “additional significant marketing costs” from “lower demand, surplus production and disruptions to shipping patterns.” He said he hadn’t seen an application form or details: “Those mechanics are coming.”

Perdue said applications don’t require an acreage report at the time of application or a USDA farm number.

Thykeson says acreage verifications likely likely will be done as a “spot check,” as the program, but he did not know any timing information.

The government will pay 80% of the producer’s maximum total payment “upon approval of the application.” A remaining 20% “will be paid” at a later date “as funds remain available.” Thykeson said this is designed to assure that funds are available to all qualifying applicants.

Funding will come from either of two sources. First is $9.5 billion appropriated in the $2.2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stability Act or CARES Act. This is for losses from January to mid-April. Second, is $6.5 billion added to the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp., to cover “on-going market disruptions.” Thykeson said he is unclear whether the money source would make any difference to the applicant.

Categories of applications

Here are general categories of applicants:

Non-specialty crops. These include malting barley, canola, corn, millet, oats, soybeans, sorghum, sunflower, durum wheat and hard red spring wheat are eligible.

Specialty crops. These are fruits, vegetables, nuts and other crops, including beans, potatoes, sweet corn, watermelons, asparagus, rhubarb and mushrooms. Thykeson said beans likely includes dry edible beans, of which North Dakota is a top producer.

Livestock. Cattle, lambs, yearlings and hogs all are eligible. Some producers have had to euthanize livestock and let the meat go to waste because of COVID-19 related disruptions at meat packing plants and in the food service industry.

Dairy. Some farmers were forced to dump milk as cafeterias closed suddenly, cutting off a large part of dairy product distribution.

Families Food Box

In the same statement, Perdue announced additional details of a separate, but related $3 billion program — Farmers to Families Food Box — to buy fresh produce, dairy and meat for workers impacted by closures of restaurants, hotels and other food service entities. The program initially was announced April 17.

USDA will “partner with regional and local distributors, whose workforce has been significantly impacted.”