As anticipated, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is releasing a third round of contracts for the Farmers to Family Food Box Program, to spend the full $3 billion approved for the program.
Unlike with the second round, all participants wanting third-round contracts must go through the sign-up process.
Although the USDA announced contracts worth $1.22 billion (May 15-June 30) and $1.47 billion (July 1-Aug. 31), leaving around $300 million for the third round, the USDA revised funds spent during the first round.
Instead of $1.22 billion, companies spent around $947 million, according to the July 24 USDA notice of the new contracts. That accounts for one contract the USDA cancelled, another one that the company declined and for companies that did not fulfill their entire contract and had to remit the funds.
At a July 21 hearing on the food box program, USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach said the last round of contracts, which extend the program through October, will be worth $500 million to $700 million.
“PMA worked closely with USDA/(Agricultural Marketing Service) to recommend improvements in the future rounds of solicitations, and is appreciative of the collaboration and look forward to an improved experience for the industry,” Richard Owen, vice president of membership and engagement at PMA, said in the e-mail.
The USDA has scheduled a web seminar on the application process at 3 p.m. Eastern, which will cover the technical details of the process. Registration is online.
According to United Fresh, the new round of contracts includes some changes:
- USDA’s priority is for combination boxes of fresh produce, dairy and cooked meat products;
- The USDA is giving priority to companies that can supply a variety of both fruits and vegetables, and not a box of a single commodity;
- Current participants can continue in the program, but they must submit a new proposal;
- The proposal process will last about a month, giving companies more time to apply; and
- Companies should have clear plans with nonprofits to ensure boxes are delivered to consumers and not dropped off in bulk at the nonprofit.