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USDA announces $19 billion ag aid program

usdaU.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which will take several actions to assist farmers, ranchers and consumers in response to the COVID-19 national emergency. The $19 billion immediate relief program aims to provide critical support to farmers and ranchers, maintain the integrity of the food supply chain, and ensure Americans continue to receive and have access to the food they need.

“The American food supply chain had to adapt, and it remains safe, secure, and strong, and we all know that starts with America’s farmers and ranchers," said Secretary Perdue. "This program will not only provide immediate relief for our farmers and ranchers, but it will also allow for the purchase and distribution of our agricultural abundance to help our fellow Americans in need.”

CFAP will use the funding and authorities provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and other USDA existing authorities. The program includes two major elements to achieve these goals.

Direct Support to Farmers and Ranchers: The program will provide $16 billion in direct support based on actual losses for agricultural producers where prices and market supply chains have been impacted and will assist producers with additional adjustment and marketing costs resulting from lost demand and short-term oversupply for the 2020 marketing year caused by COVID-19.

USDA Purchase and Distribution: USDA will partner with regional and local distributors, whose workforce has been significantly impacted by the closure of many restaurants, hotels, and other food service entities, to purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat. It will begin with the procurement of an estimated $100 million per month in fresh fruits and vegetables, $100 million per month in a variety of dairy products, and $100 million per month in meat products. The distributors and wholesalers will then provide a pre-approved box of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to food banks, community and faith based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need.

"This is an important and resolute step toward ensuring that fruits and vegetables are harvested and served to consumers," said Cathy Burns, PMA's chief executive officer. "We fully support the Administration's move to ensure that our industry has the means to help get our nutritious products to those in need. Yet, there is a long way to go. We need to capitalize on the strength of public-private partnerships to alleviate any uncertainties regarding the impact and implementation of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. We are committed to building these coalitions and providing updates and guidance as we move forward."

“From the moment that the foodservice channel was shut down, we’ve worked hard with our members and allied produce associations across the country to formulate a plan for the government to help those who have been hit the hardest,” said Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United Fresh. “Working together with the co-chairs of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance — Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, National Potato Council, and Western Growers — we have collectively developed specific proposals supported by the broad fruit and vegetable industry to outline our needs to USDA and the Administration.”

“The damage to Florida producers of fresh fruits and vegetables has been swift, staggering and devastating,” said Mike Joyner, president of FFVA. “Florida specialty crop growers have suffered more than $520 million in losses for this season. The programs announced today do not reach a level that would benefit Florida specialty crop producers at the level that is desperately needed. This is a first step, but much more is needed to ensure that a key driver of Florida’s damaged economy can return to strength.”

“The U.S. potato industry is $4 billion annually with 60 percent of that total involving food service,” said Kam Quarles, CEO of FFVA. “Potato growers appreciate Secretary Perdue’s rapid action intended to stabilize family farms whose survival is threatened due to the mandated food service shutdown. Today’s announcement is a down payment on those efforts that will require additional resources and flexibility to deliver the necessary relief for our great potato industry.”

“Farmers who provide our fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts have suffered massive economic damage, triggered by the nearly complete shutdown of the food service sector,” said Dave Puglia, CEO of WG. “This crisis threatens to put thousands of farmers and associated companies out of business. The relief package announced today by President Trump and Secretary Perdue provides a very limited and conditioned first injection of $2.7 billion in financial assistance for the fresh produce industry until the economy regains its footing. Clearly, far more will be needed with more reasonable limits.”

“We appreciate the steps taken today, but also must reinforce to Congress that the funds available to agriculture are simply inadequate to keep our industry strong into the future. The programs announced today will limit our ability to reach those who were most impacted by the tragic events around the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stenzel said.

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