Industry associations have presented to the U.S. Department of Agriculture what is being called a Produce Market Stabilization Program to help produce operators survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
The comprehensive program, according to a news release, would immediately support critical financial needs in the produce supply chain.
In addition, 108 members of Congress sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging USDA to support immediate relief.
“Since the beginning of this crisis, our association has worked to help our industry keep produce moving to consumers,” Michael Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods and chairman of the United Fresh Produce Association, said in the release. “Today is an important day on a path toward some stability for our industry to be able to serve consumers when we’re finally past this terrible time.”
There is a long road ahead for the plan, United Fresh president and CEO Tom Stenzel said in the release.
“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.”
Stenzel thanked Reps. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., Fred Upton, R-Mich., Jim Costa, D-Calif., and Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., for spearheading the Congressional support for the letter. Stenzel also praised leaders of other produce associations who have worked together on the plan.
“Most organizations represent specific sectors and members who are suffering, but we’ve set aside competitive interests to support a common approach that gets us the best chance of securing real relief for our industry,” he said in the release.
Specialty crops have been hammered by the shut down of the foodservice sector, Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council, said in a statement.
“The National Potato Council and our entire industry sincerely appreciates the recognition by 108 members of Congress of the dire circumstances and need for federal assistance.”
Stenzel said the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides $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,” Stenzel said in the release, noting that the USDA will have further discussions to determine its approach. “And eventually, we believe there will have to be continuing additional financial relief from Congress if our economy is going to be able to pull out of this crisis and grow again.”