In a letter dated March 30 the domestic fresh produce supply chain reached out to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, asking that quick action be taken to help the fruit and vegetable industry recover from the shutdown of foodservice operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter was signed by a coalition of more than five dozen industry organizations, led by the signatures of Tom Stenzel, President and CEO
United Fresh Produce Association, and Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council
Sent prior to the bicameral approval, the letter read, “On behalf of the highly perishable fresh produce supply chain, we urge USDA to take swift action in developing a market stabilization plan for the industry to meet the legislative intent of the CARES Act passed by the Senate and hopefully soon to be passed by the House. As Congress specified, this support is desperately needed by the fruit and vegetable sector that was devastated by the shutdown of the foodservice supply chain.
“As you know, a bi-partisan group of House members wrote you earlier this week asking USDA to target relief for our industry so Congressional intent seems quite clear.
“As USDA develops specific programs under this provision of the legislation for our sector of American agriculture, we ask that you work together with us on following:
“USDA should move to aggregate all data on losses by PACA licensees due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This information could provide one of the most reliable datasets to identify losses for the allocation of government support to those most directly impacted by this crisis;
“USDA should immediately act to develop a disbursement plan to pay grower-shippers for debts identified from PACA licensees and customers along with other contractual obligations that cannot be repaid due to the collapse of the foodservice sector.
“As you know under the PACA system perishable producers are first in line for payment in bankruptcy situations. During the ordinary course of business such bankruptcies would be few in number and non-payments would be handled between trading partners. But, given the potential of widespread non-payment and even business failures in this crisis within the food service sector, extra steps are required. USDA should act to help cover debts, in whole or in part, not covered during the ordinary course of the PACA process. These payments will not only help growers directly, but will reduce the debts of foodservice distributors to the growers, allowing them to continue in business;
“Development of a plan for USDA to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables for federal feeding programs. In so doing USDA should immediately “step into the shoes” of schools that have cancelled contracts.
“While USDA is working with schools around the country to continue meal service while schools are closed, large volumes of product previously contracted for are now left unsold; USDA taking over those contracts could shore up the system in the short term while providing public nutritional benefits. Beyond that immediate need, given the
potential for this crisis to linger for weeks and months, USDA should immediately work to create an expedited section 32 style purchase program. With the duration of this crisis uncertain, and food service sector purchasing ceasing, USDA should contract now for product in the coming weeks to add much needed medium term stability.
“As we seek to quantify the full international trade impacts of this global crisis, USDA should be prepared to create a program that assists producers with respect to lost international markets.
“Use of all resources at USDA’s discretion, including carryover funds from the previous fiscal year, must be part of the solution to address the immediate needs of the specialty crop industry.
“These are our industry’s initial needs and ideas to help reduce the financial devastation from this crisis. While this crisis continues to evolve, so might solutions that are warranted for consideration. The fresh produce industry stands ready to work with you and the USDA team to implement an effective and aggressive stabilization program. We thank you for your swift attention on these matters to ensure that our businesses can remain open to keep Americans fed during, and after, this national emergency.”
In addition to Stenzel and Quarles, the letter was signed by Produce Industry Allied Organizations that include American Mushroom Institute; American Seed Trade Association; National Onion Association; National Peach Council; National Watermelon Association; North American Strawberry Growers Association; Produce Marketing Association; Dave Puglia President and CEO Western Growers;
Michael A. Joyner, President Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association; U.S. Apple Association; United Potato Growers of America; US Sweet Potato Council; Fresh Produce Association of the Americas; Gulf Coast Watermelon Association; Idaho-Oregon Fruit and Vegetable Association; Indiana-Illinois Watermelon Association; Maryland-Delaware Watermelon Association; New England Produce Council;
Northern Plains Potato Growers Association; Northwest Horticultural Council; Southeast Produce Council; Western Watermelon Association
California Apple Commission; California Avocado Commission; California Blueberry Association; California Blueberry Commission;
California Cherry Growers and Industry Association; California Citrus Mutual; California Farm Bureau Federation; California Fig Advisory Board; California Fresh Fig Growers Association; California Fresh Fruit Association; California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement; California Pear Growers Association; California Seed Association; California Sweet Potato Council; Grower-Shipper Association of Central California; Olive Growers Council of California; Ventura County Agricultural Association; Colorado Potato Administrative Committee; Florida Citrus Packers; Florida Strawberry Growers Association; Florida Tomato Exchange; Florida Watermelon Association; Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Assoc.; Georgia Watermelon Association; Idaho Grower Shippers Association; Idaho Potato Commission; United Potato Growers of Idaho; Maine Potato Board; Michigan Apple Committee; Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee; Michigan Potato Growers, Inc.; Michigan State Horticultural Society; Minnesota Area II Potato Council; Mississippi Sweet Potato Council; Empire State Potato Growers; New York Apple Association; New York State Vegetable Growers; North Carolina Potato Association; North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission; North Carolina Vegetable Growers Association; North Carolina Watermelon Association; Oregon Potato Commission; Pennsylvania Co-operative Potato Growers; South Carolina Peach Council; South Carolina Watermelon Association; Texas Citrus Mutual
Texas International Produce Association; Texas Watermelon Association; Virginia Potato & Vegetable Growers; Washington Apple Commission; Washington State Potato Commission; Washington State Tree Fruit Association; and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Grower Association.