by Matt Smith, UF/IFAS Extension - Hernando County Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Agent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit businesses hard around the county, and farmers are no exception. Not only did the closing of restaurants and tourism hotspots decrease the overall demand for food, but the loss of customers began just as Florida’s harvest season was beginning. By the time federal assistance became available and restaurants had begun limited re-openings, the window for Florida growers to sell their crops had closed. As the state begins to plant for the fall season, Hernando County Economic Development has announced a second round of grants totaling $3.4 million that it is distributing to small businesses, including farms.
The Hernando CARES Small Business Recovery Grant, funded through the 2020 USA CARES Act, is open to most for-profit businesses, including farms. The amount of money a business qualifies for is directly related to how many people they employ. Farms with 1-15 full-time equivalent employees are eligible for $2,500, those with 16-50 full-time equivalent employees are eligible for $5,000, and those with 51-100 full-time equivalent employees are eligible for $7,500. While the money is a grant and does not need to be paid back, there are some limitations on how you can spend it. Funds should be spent on rent or mortgage, utilities, payroll, or any miscellaneous bills directly resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to remember that, while the grant funds can only be spent on certain things, they free up money in your budget to go toward other farm essentials like seeds/starts, equipment rentals, and cold protection equipment. Funds for qualifying businesses will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Growers who lost income during the spring harvest season should take advantage of every program they can in order to put themselves in the best position for the fall season. The CARES Act money that was directed to the USDA – the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) – is still available, and new commodities have been added to the program since its inception. This program is designed to help offset losses from COVID-19 through direct payments. The application deadline is August 28th.
To apply for the Hernando CARES Small Business Recovery Grant, visit https://form.jotform.com/HernandoCounty/hernandocares.
To apply for the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, visit https://www.farmers.gov/cfap.
The University of Florida IFAS Extension is an equal opportunity institution.