(UPDATED COVERAGE, Feb. 1) The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it intends to purchase up to $9 million of fresh potatoes, $8.2 million of peach and mixed fruit products, $7 million of frozen blueberries, and $4.9 million of fresh and canned pears for federal food nutrition assistance programs.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the combined purchase worth $29.1 million on Jan. 29.
The potato purchase has been a priority for the industry since last fall, said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based National Potato Council.
Keeling sent a letter to the USDA in October asking for the USDA to step up its “bonus buy” purchases of fresh potatoes for school nutrition programs to help growers move the large fresh crop. Higher than normal yields and packout resulted in projected shipments 5% higher than a year, Keeling said.
The added volume has weighed heavily on prices, with the USDA reporting the average price of both fresh and processed potatoes at $7.19 per cwt. in January, off $2.12 per cwt. compared with the same time a year ago.
The Idaho Congressional delegation also sent a letter to the USDA in January requesting additional USDA potato purchases.
Keeling said he believes the USDA purchase should help growers but not disrupt the market.
“These purchases will help stabilize prices and markets, stimulate the economy, and provide high quality, nutritious food to schools and food banks while assisting blueberry, pear, potato, peach and mixed fruit producers,” Vilsack said in a news release.
“With a record crop of fresh pears, this is a welcome announcement as we head into the second half of the pear season,” said Kevin Moffitt, President and chief executive officer of Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore. “Sweet, juicy and nutritious U.S.A. Pears are a great fit for the feeding programs targeted by the USDA in this announcement and will help bolster the health of America’s children and America’s pear farmers.”
The food will be used to support the national school lunch program, emergency food assistance and the school breakfast program, among others.
For more information, go to the AMS Commodity Procurement Web page.