( Photo courtesy Food Bank for the Heartland )

It’s a disturbing paradox during the COVID-19 pandemic: Food banks are seeing skyrocketing demand with hours-long waits while growers are forced to waste tons of food.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and Feeding America, a national network of 200 food banks, is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow farmers and ranchers to send donations directly to food banks.

Demand is soaring, with some food banks seeing a 100% increase in need, according to the letter. At the same time, consumers are seeing images of tons of agricultural goods being tossed. 

The mixed messages are creating a panic among American consumers that there won’t be enough food, while driving down prices for farm produce, according to the letter.

The USDA could create a voucher program, allowing farmers and food banks to work more directly with one another instead of relying on third parties, which often lengthens the time it takes for food to get from farm to food bank shelves, according to the letter.

The voucher program would likely require “regulatory flexibility” for speedy action during the crisis, but the USDA could do it while maintaining food safety standards, the letter states.

“This is an opportunity for USDA to act quickly to produce a win for food banks and a win for farmers,” Farm Bureau and Feeding America wrote. “It is a chance for government to serve as a facilitator while clearing bureaucracy and red tape.”

Another recommendation came from a legislator.

In an April 14 letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson D-Minn., urged the administration to buy more agricultural commodities for donation and distribution to help hungry people and struggling farmers during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Farmers and ranchers are all frustrated with the inability to get their dairy, meat and poultry products, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, into the hands of consumers, especially those consumers most in need of food assistance,” Peterson wrote.

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