The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to buy $50 million in surplus potatoes for food banks and other nutrition-assistance programs. The purchase is part of a previously announced $470 million in purchases of various commodities.
The potato industry welcomed the planned purchases, for COVID-19 relief. The package is “very welcome news,” National Potato Council Board President Britt Reybould said in a news release. “Given the size of the crisis involving potatoes, this purchase is a partial down payment on the industry’s overall relief needs, and more will be needed.”
She said that in the short term, the announcement is “very positive in that it provides clarity on the immediate relief efforts and gives family farms hope for more to come.”
Mandated restaurant and food-service shutdowns left an oversupply from the 2019 crop. The council said the U.S. potato industry derives 60% of its $4 billion annual revenue from food service.
Council CEO Kam Quarles said growers and state potato groups have made substantial charitable donations of the crop but need financial help. “We desperately need Congress and the administration’s partnership to defend America’s family farms in this crisis and believe today’s announcement is a positive first step on that long road,” he said.
Some $750 million to $1.5 billion in potatoes are stuck in the supply chain with no customer, Quarles stated. By acting as a customer for some of those unsold potatoes, USDA can help keep growers solvent while getting food to people in need.
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service plans to start issuing solicitations in June and begin deliveries in July. Solicitations will be posted on the AMS Open Purchases Request website when available. The purchases will be in addition to those USDA announced previously.
USDA on April 17 announced a Farmers to Families food-box program to include about $100 million in monthly fruit and vegetable purchases; wholesalers can choose which to include. That spending is part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which calls for the agency to purchase and distribute up to $3 billion in agricultural products for those in need.