USDA Offers $19B in Ag Relief, Industry Members Comment
- by Anne Allen
UNITED STATES - A monumental relief package is on its way to farmers and ranchers, as the White House and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) outlined $19 billion in funding. This package, which will be funded from the CARES Act and other coronavirus spending bills, will include direct payments and commodity purchases with the purpose of supporting the agriculture community.
Key highlights from the relief package include:
- The USDA will buy $3 billion in surplus food to distribute to food banks and organizations helping to feed people in need. The plan specifically allocates $100 million per month on the purchase of fruits and vegetables. This is in addition to the $850 million provided in the congressional stimulus legislation for food purchases and administrative costs of food banks
- $16 billion will be used for direct payments to farmers and ranchers, which includes $2.1 billion for specialty crop producers
- An additional $500 million could be provided to sectors that may include floriculture, although the USDA has not announced how this funding will be determined and distributed
In response to this package, several industry leaders, including the United Fresh Produce Association’s President and CEO, Tom Stenzel, commented on the situation.
“We appreciate the steps taken today, but also must reinforce to Congress that the funds available to agriculture are simply inadequate to keep our industry strong into the future. The programs announced today will limit our ability to reach those who were most impacted by the tragic events around the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stenzel said. “Our coalition has begun to work immediately with the USDA and our allied partners to ensure that these programs address the most urgent needs for the industry. Also, we’ll continue our push with Congress to allocate the resources needed to support our industry.”
The Produce Marketing Association’s CEO Cathy Burns, also issued a statement.
“This is an important and resolute step toward ensuring that fruits and vegetables are harvested and served to consumers,” Burns remarked in a letter sent to the industry. “We fully support the Administration's move to ensure that our industry has the means to help get our nutritious products to those in need. Yet, there is a long way to go. We need to capitalize on the strength of public-private partnerships to alleviate any uncertainties regarding the impact and implementation of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). We are committed to building these coalitions and providing updates and guidance as we move forward.”
Burns continued, stating that, “I promise you that neither I nor all of us at PMA will take a resting breath until all the vegetables, fruits, and flowers that you worked so hard to plant, grow, and harvest are distributed to the consumers, who need healthful and nutritious products now more than ever. As the economy begins to reopen, I will continue to knock on every door, to make sure that we—as the industry—re-enter the post-pandemic reality fully supported by our federal and state governments and primed to fairly compete in the global marketplace.”
Dave Puglia, President and CEO of Western Growers Association, added his thoughts.
“Farmers who provide our fresh fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts have suffered massive economic damage, triggered by the nearly complete shutdown of the foodservice sector,” said Puglia. “This crisis threatens to put thousands of farmers and associated companies out of business. The relief package announced today by President Trump and Secretary Perdue provides a very limited and conditioned first injection of $2.7 billion in financial assistance for the fresh produce industry until the economy regains its footing. Clearly, far more will be needed with more reasonable limits.”
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