The U.S. fresh produce industry needs the federal government’s immediate assistance to recover from economic distress caused by the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, industry groups told the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a March 30 letter.
More than 70 fresh produce groups urged the USDA to take swift action in developing a market stabilization plan for the industry “to meet the legislative intent” of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump.
The letter was signed by Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association; Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council; Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers; and Michael Joyner, president of the Florida Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, and endorsed by the Produce Marketing Association and dozens of other industry organizations.
The letter, to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, asks the USDA to work with the industry on priorities that include:
- Compile data on losses by Perishable Agricultural Commodity Act licensees because of the pandemic;
- Immediately act to develop a disbursement plan to pay grower-shippers for debts identified from PACA licensees and customers along with other unmet contractual obligations due to the collapse of the foodservice sector;
- Develop a plan for USDA to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables for federal feeding programs;
- Be prepared to create a program that assists producers with lost international markets; and
- Use all resources, including carryover funds from the previous fiscal year budget, as 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,” according to the letter.
“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.”