On April 21st, the USDA held a webinar to introduce a new purchasing program designed to provide alleviation to those in the agricultural industry who have been hit hard by the current pandemic. The program is called Farmers to Families and through it the USDA plans to spend $100 million per month on the procurement of fresh fruits and vegetables, for a period of six months.
“It’s important to note that the USDA has budgeted for the $100 million, but they aren’t restricted to that number. If the need and the response from the industry exceeds that, then the program can even be expanded,” Robert Guenther of United Fresh Produce Association commented in a media call organized by the association following the webinar. The purpose of this call was to further inform the industry on the details of the program.
United Fresh advocates for fresh produce purchase program
A month and a half ago, Tom Stenzel, United Fresh’s CEO, sent a letter to the USDA in which he asked Secretary Purdue “to ensure that fresh produce currently in the supply chain is making its way to those who need it most.” This program helps to do just that. Mollie Van Lieu of United Fresh commented: “This program is designed to utilize the part of the supply chain that is currently underutilized due to the closures of schools and restaurants. It also helps to meet the needs of the non-profit organizations and the foodbanks who are currently struggling both due to the increasing needs from the community and the declining volunteer work force.”
The program is geared toward the needs of the supply chain, from growers to distributors, and also includes provisions for the dairy and meat sectors. Donors are invited to submit proposals for supplying mixed commodity boxes to non-profit organizations on a recurring basis. “The focus is on the distributors here – for them to do the outreach and have the relationships with the foodbanks and non-profits,” Van Lieu explains.
Awards are expected to be announced around May 8th, 2020 and by May 15th, 2020 the program should be fully operational. “USDA will award contracts for the purchase of the agricultural products, the assembly of commodity boxes and delivery to identified non-profit organizations that can receive and distribute to those in need,” a release from United Fresh explains.
“Overall, we’re very pleased with what we’ve heard about the program thus far, it’s a great start. This can really benefit the entire supply chain, from the growers up,” Guenther added in response to the USDA webinar.
Supporting those hit by the crisis
“Out of the entire supply chain, about 60% of the product is destined for retail, and 40% is for food distribution, such as restaurants, hotels, schools, hospitals, etc. The entire food distribution part of the supply chain generates around $52 billion a year, which comes out to a billion dollars a week. Most growers grow for both retail and food distribution, but on the distributor side there are quite a few distributors who strictly supply the foodservice industry, and those are the people who have been hit hard and who this program is designed to help,” Guenther explained.
“We applaud USDA for this innovative approach and response to our industry needs and look forward to working with them as this program rolls out,” a statement from United Fresh reads. “United Fresh will continue to work closely with USDA to ensure that the design of this program can be effective and efficient in supporting the fresh produce supply chain and getting fresh fruits and vegetables to people in need.”
To watch the USDA webinar on the "Buy Fresh" program, click here.
To read FAQs about the program, click here.