Delving into the detail of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, visited April 21 with The Packer’s Tom Karst.
Of the $2.7 billion targeted to the fresh produce industry in the USDA plan, $2.1 billion will be direct payments. The remaining $600 million will be for produce purchases over the next six months, called the “Buy Fresh” program.
The USDA said the $100 million/month for the next six months in a new “Buy Fresh” program funded through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, in which the federal government will purchase fresh produce and pay for its delivery to food banks, curb-side school pick-up sites, and other non-profit institutions.
“(The Buy Fresh) program is something that I think is needed now; it is going to be an important part of the recovery,” Guenther said. “I think it’s going to help the supply chain release some of the pressure of the marketplace.”
Guenther said the $100 million per month could be potentially be ramped up if the program is effective.
The program won’t replace normal foodservice produce sales, he said.
“Most people estimate that lost sales at foodservice are about a billion dollars a week,” he said. At the same time, Guenther said the planned produce purchases by the USDA for one month would still represent more produce purchases than the agency completed in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 combined.
In the conversation, Guenther also considers the USDA’s plan for direct payments and considers how soon the industry might see a return to more normal business.