In a joint statement, Cathy Burns of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and Tom Stenzel of the United Fresh Produce Association (UF) have updated the US industry following a virtual meeting with US Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials who have direct responsibility for the Farmers to Families food box programme.
The USDA team organised the meeting in response to an earlier joint PMA/UF letter offering input on the programme as it continues to roll out across the country.
According to the two organistions, all parties had an "open and candid dialogue" on the topics they had each heard from their members, including challenges faced in the RFP process, and discussion about how the programme is operating today.
"We’re pleased to report that USDA’s tracking data show that more than 3m boxes have already been delivered," the statement confirmed. "As this programme is just two weeks into operation, USDA is evaluating everything they are learning from current contracts and developing new plans for a second round beginning 1 July."
PMA and UF said they had heard about extensive analysis and audits to verify what was actually taking place under current contracts, which had given them confidence in USDA’s oversight of the programme.
The USDA team had been "very open and receptive" to suggestions about how to best meet the needs of food banks, serving regions that are now under-served, providing diversity of commodities, and better demonstrating capabilities in the bidding process.
"We applaud those of you are working hard to deliver fresh produce through this programme today, and urge any others who want to be part of the programme to be on the lookout for how you might be considered in the future," the statement noted. "As we know, there will likely be many more bidders who offer their services than dollars or contracts allow, but we believe the process will continue to improve with a mutual industry and USDA goal to achieve maximum success for the programme."