With the April 17 announcement from USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue that the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program came authority for the USDA to buy and distribute up to $3 billion of ag products to those in need by partnering with regional and local distributors.
Among those distributors is Markon Cooperative, and OnionBusiness recently spoke with Product Manager Joey Piedimonte about the seven-member Markon family and the operation’s participation in the huge USDA undertaking.
The USDA is soliciting proposals and awarding contracts for assembling and distributing ag product commodity boxes to non-profit organizations on what has been described as “a mutually agreeable, recurring schedule.” According to information from the USDA, “Agricultural Marketing Service’s Commodity Procurement Program will procure an estimated $100 million per month in fresh fruits and vegetables, $100 million per month in a variety of dairy products, and $100 million per month in meat products. The distributors and wholesalers will then provide a pre-approved box of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need.”
Joey told us in late April that Markon was looking at apples, onions, baby carrots, bagged lettuces, spinach and potatoes for its boxes. He said the process involves four rounds of pricing for onions that take in the California desert and Central Valley in the first two and Idaho-E. Oregon in the third and fourth.
The pricing rounds, he said, “are specific to this effort,” which is noted is “structured pretty similarly to other bids or contract programs we work on, and so we were able to collect and submit our pricing [in the bid process] very quickly.”
The program is on a rolling timeline, with different crops coming off at different times. Joey explained, “There are quite a few moving pieces, and given the time frames, several transitions are involved.” He continued, “It appears to be a fast roll-out. Today [May 1] was the due date to submit pricing, and hopefully we’ll hear results before May 8. We’ve submitted pricing for four periods: May 15-June 30, July–Aug. 31, Sept. 1–Oct. 31 and Nov. 1–Dec. 31.”
The non-profits to benefit from Markon’s participation were chosen by the cooperative’s member companies, and Joey said the volumes will vary company to company.
“Each one of our members is a little different on how many cases they will be able to offer per week,” he said. “The ballpark we’re figuring on is between 20,000 and 40,000 per week, with approximately 1,500 of those cases being onions.”
Joey added, “We do not have a cap on volume. Of course, we’d love to move as many produce boxes as possible to support those adversely affected by COVID-19.”
Putting the boxes together to include a variety of products obviously involves physical teamwork, and Joey was upbeat about that aspect.
“We’ll be teaming up with mostly grower/shipper/processors and our Los Angeles consolidator to assemble the boxes. This is definitely going to create some new jobs!” he said.
For more information on Farmers to Families Food Box, visit https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/farmers-to-families-food-box.