A group of 108 congressmen, along with the United Fresh Produce Association and other fresh produce industry organizations, are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support a comprehensive Produce Market Stabilization Program. The goal is to immediately support critical financial needs in the produce supply chain affected by the coronavirus pandemic crisis.
The petition, submitted to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, states that there is an urgent need to provide direct support to producers of specialty crops across the nation who are facing substantial immediate financial challenges.
According to information presented in the comprehensive Produce Market Stabilization Program, almost overnight, critical movement and economic activity in the fresh produce supply chain vanished as restaurants, food establishments, hospitality businesses and schools were shuttered, and the retail industry struggles to adjust.
Over a five-day period, 30 million school lunches, 15 million school breakfasts, and 100 million meals at restaurants everyday stopped being served. Industry leaders warned that the entire fresh produce industry supply chain is reeling from this sudden and immediate shut down of an estimated 40% of all produce consumed in America.
“The first step was encouraging Congress to pass the CARES Act devoting $2 trillion to the economy, and some $9.5 billion specifically carved out for fruits and vegetables, livestock, dairy, and local food systems. Now, comes this urgent proposal with a roadmap of how USDA can support our industry immediately,” said United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel.
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Also, the bipartisan group of 108 congressmen is asking Secretary Perdue to reserve funding to develop and execute a recovery and relief plan for the specialty crop industry. They highlight three key components that should be included in the plan.
- Fresh Produce Purchases: include funding and guidance for USDA purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables, including purchases for federal nutrition programs. With a steep decline in purchases in the foodservice sector, USDA is requested to swiftly develop a purchase program, in addition to the existing purchase programs, that would quickly provide stability to all impacted fresh produce growers through the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Direct Payments to Specialty Crop Producers: USDA to provide direct payments to specialty crop producers impacted by lost sales or other financial losses due to the coronavirus emergency.
- Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act: That USDA consider the reality that, throughout this pandemic, growers and shippers may struggle to meet contractual obligations under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA). USDA is requested to provide assistance and flexibility in light of the unprecedented consequences of COVID-19.
“There is a long road still ahead, but this is a critical step, our industry has come together to support a consensus proposal to USDA, and Congress has come together to let our national decision-makers know how important this is across the country and every sector of our business,” said Stenzel.