Tom Stenzel United Fresh

Tom Stenzel

United Fresh Produce Association and a number of industry partners have presented to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) with a comprehensive Produce Market Stabilization Program to immediately support critical financial needs in the produce supply chain.

In addition,108 members of Congress have sent a letter to USDA secretary Sonny Perdue urging USDA to support this immediate relief, in the face of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

United Fresh president and CEO Tom Stenzel said that Industry members from across the supply chain had been helping estimate losses and define where immediate assistance was most needed, while also helping to understand the intricacies and weaknesses of the supply chain.

'Ours is not a supply chain that can pause – when we harvest today, that product starts a journey that ends up being consumed usually in just a couple weeks,' he outlined. 'But disruptions to demand at the end of that journey creates financial impact everywhere along the chain from field to table. Whether it’s lost inventory along the supply chain or crops left in the field, the impact is shared. And that’s to say nothing about future lost sales.'

The proposal to USDA, with 85 different produce organisations signed on, was described as 'nothing less than amazing' by Stenzel, with organisations forging a consensus deemed 'our best chance for real relief'.

'We have to fight for this together as an industry, as every other food and agriculture sector is facing its own challenges and they have a seat at the table too,' Stenzel said.

“Since the beginning of this crisis, our association has worked to help our industry keep produce moving to consumers,” said Michael Muzyk, president, Baldor Specialty Foods, and chairman of United Fresh. “And, we’ve worked to help our members actually survive following the devastating financial impact of this crisis. Today is an important day on a path toward some stability for our industry to be able to serve consumers when we’re finally past this terrible time.”

“There is a long road still ahead,” Stenzel continued. “But this is a critical step – our industry has come together to support a consensus proposal to USDA, and Congress has come together to let our national decision-makers know how important this is across the country and every sector of our business.

'The first step was encouraging Congress to pass the CARES Act devoting US$2tn to the economy, and some US$9.5bn specifically carved out for fruits and vegetables, livestock, dairy and local food systems,' he said. 'Now, comes this urgent proposal with a roadmap of how USDA can support our industry immediately.

'Next will come deep discussions and analysis within USDA in channeling resources to multiple interests. And eventually, we believe there will have to be continuing additional financial relief from Congress if our economy is going to be able to pull out of this crisis and grow again.'